Medication and therapy are the cornerstones of treatment for mood episodes, but tips for managing bipolar disorder can be the cement that holds everyday management together.
Just because you’re not currently experiencing a mood episode doesn’t mean you’re no longer living with bipolar disorder.
For the millions of other people living with this condition, managing bipolar disorder can feel like an everyday job — and some days are more difficult than others.
Approximately 5.7 million U.S. adults live with bipolar disorder annually. If you’ve spent years managing bipolar disorder symptoms without a diagnosis, you’re not alone.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance also reports that the majority of people living with bipolar disorder go more than several years without a diagnosis, and some may manage symptoms on their own for up to 10 years.
Managing bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming. Between mood episodes you may still experience an array of emotions, and there may be consequences to deal with in your relationships, finances, and professional life.
There might be events or situations that trigger your symptoms. You might not know why you feel better or worse today than you did the day before.
Thankfully, there are ways to help manage bipolar disorder day-in and day-out.
It’s important to remember that bipolar disorder is a neurocognitive disorder. This means mania, depression, or hypomania episodes begin in the communication receptors (neurotransmitters) within the brain, and symptoms manifest outwardly — not the other way around.
Tips and strategies you can apply daily could help lessen the severity of symptoms and build present moment awareness and resilience to double down on your full treatment plan crafted with your healthcare team.
First, identify your stressors
Stressors can worsen episodes that were already queuing in the brain.
The symptoms of a mood episode may be difficult to spot. They can start slowly, building as time goes on. By identifying stressful events, places, or situations, you can take precautions against significant shifts in mood stability.
Holidays, for example, can be stressful for many people. You may not realize you’re feeling symptoms of mania or depression until you suddenly feel inundated. Perhaps your ex-spouse is getting remarried, and you worry your kids will take to the new stepmom. Or you’re up for your annual review at work and the uncertainty sparks a depressive episode.
By being aware of the moments likely to exacerbate episodes, you may be able to improve your outcome by treating symptoms earlier.
Identifying stressors can also help you plan ahead. You can focus on things that help you relax. You can reach out to family and friends for additional support.
Lean into routines
Routines can provide an action plan so you have something to fall back on if you’re experiencing a depressive episode. They can also give you something to direct your energies toward if you’re in a calm state (euthymia) or feeling the energy surge of symptoms of mania or hypomania.
Daily routines, such as making your bed and brushing your teeth, may even help reduce the number of times you experience mood cycling.
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Researchers believe routines create an internal time clock that helps the body regulate the release of important hormones, many of which influence mood.
Make notes of your symptoms
It doesn’t have to be anything copious or formal. Tracking your symptoms may help you and your mental health team develop successful treatments and management plans.
Keeping a journal or using an app as a mood log may allow you to see patterns over long periods of time.
You may start to notice specific stressors before mood shifts. You may realize that changes in habit or diet coincide with mood episodes. Once patterns become known, you can find more targeted ways to manage bipolar disorder.
Opt out of substances like cannabis and alcohol
Substance use may worsen the clinical course of bipolar disorder. You may experience earlier onset, more rapid mood cycling, or more mixed mania episodes.
When you’re in a mood episode, trying to mute symptoms with alcohol or recreational substances may be an option you keep on the table just in case. You’re not alone in this thought. Though you may feel benefits initially, the long-term effects could be problematic.
Keep meds your priority
Your medication is already an integral part of your treatment. There are some small ways to make your medication regimen even better, such as:
- trying a handy new pillbox to securely and discreetly store your medications
- downloading a meds reminder app
- taking meds as directed, without skipping doses or discontinuing use
- sticking with the same mental health professionals as much as possible for consistency
- communicating candidly with your healthcare team about how you’re feeling
- scheduling and keeping regular appointments to help track progress, even when you’re feeling OK
Mindfulness is the practice of observing ambiance, senses, sensations, emotions, and thoughts in the moment, objectively and passively.
It can be practiced throughout your day or as a form of meditation.
You might have depressive thoughts, but when being mindful, you can acknowledge those thoughts and not engage them.
You can learn these 1-minute mindfulness exercises to fold into your days or nights.
Mindfulness is at the core of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). In a 2017
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Get moderate exercise, nothing fancy
Physical activity is part of a handful of lifestyle tweaks
Exercise can elevate mood through the release of feel-good hormones in the brain, known as endorphins. It can help manage weight and combat feelings of depression.
In some cases, exercise might make manic episodes worse. You may feel compelled to overexert yourself or feel as though your symptoms are ramping up more quickly than normal.
Make a few additions to your diet
Dietary modifications can also help you combat other health issues, such as unwanted weight gain, that may contribute to negative body image and depressive thoughts.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep disturbances are common during all phases of bipolar disorder. You may find you sleep excessively when in a depressive episode or don’t feel the need for sleep at all during mania.
Tips to help improve your sleep include:
- setting a bedtime routine
- optimizing your bedroom for light and sound exposure
- focusing on relaxation before sleep
- eliminating blue light exposure before bed
- creating a comfortable, soothing bedroom atmosphere
Enjoy light, or dark, therapy
Sunlight might have a role to play in managing bipolar disorder symptoms.
Sunlight also helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm, your 24-hour internal clock. Circadian rhythm disruptions are a suspected contributor to bipolar disorder mood episodes.
Sunlight isn’t the only light thought to influence symptoms of mood episodes.
Managing bipolar disorder successfully often means more than just taking medication.
By nurturing healthy habits and fortifying routines at home, you may be able to decrease the frequency or severity of mood episodes and create a stronger sense of elasticity between energy shifts.
Your mental health team will be able to work with you in developing a long-term bipolar disorder management plan that works for you.