Living with a condition of extreme mood shifts can put strain on everyday life, but learning how to recognize your feelings and celebrate your accomplishments can encourage a positive outlook.

Bipolar disorder is an inclusive term for bipolar I and II disorders and cyclothymia, conditions that feature episodes of mania, hypomania, and periods of clinical depression.

The often severe mood changes in bipolar disorder can create a number of interpersonal and everyday challenges. You might find relationships don’t last, for example, or employment is nearly impossible to maintain.

You didn’t choose to live with bipolar disorder, and it’s natural to feel distressed at how symptoms negatively impact your life. When things feel at their worst, however, there are ways you can help find a positive mindset — and stay in it.

A positive mindset doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. Positivity is simply a path of thinking that focuses on success rather than failure. It tends to align with optimism, which means you have a general sense that future outcomes will be in your favor.

You can build positivity slowly or use it as a go-to when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Learning to find strengths in bipolar disorder

Positivity can start with the proverbial “silver lining” to bipolar disorder.

According to Katie Borek, MSW, RSW, director at Aligned Minds Counseling and Therapy in Edmonton, Canada, finding the strengths in bipolar disorder can help you view the condition in a positive light.

“This is not meant to be dismissive of the struggles faced when you have bipolar disorder,” she says. “Because of the struggles you face living with bipolar, you may have developed resiliency and empathy. Maybe you have also developed your own creative ways to cope.”

Forming your support network

When you feel like no one understands or cares, it can be easy to slide down into a pool of negative emotions.

Having a support network, be it family, friends, or an organized group of others, can be a helpful reminder that you’re not alone. People do care. People do share this experience.

Collaborating with your support network to schedule regular check-ins, visits, and communication can eliminate the chances of feeling forgotten if someone hasn’t called in a while.

“Support groups are a great way to find encouragement and inspiration from other people who are also living with bipolar disorder,” says Borek. “Your support group can also be a great source of new coping skills that have been tested by others.”

Checking in with yourself

Just as check-ins from others can encourage positivity, learning to check in with yourself can also help you know when to focus on positivity.

“Us[e] consistent check-ins … when you may be feeling unusually depressed or high-energy that day,” suggests Kevin Coleman, LMFT-A, owner of Connected Therapy Practice in Columbia, South Carolina.

You can do this through journaling. Coleman suggests answering the questions in your journal once a day:

  • How sad am I feeling today on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • How good am I feeling today on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Is this significantly different than a few days ago? Why might that be?

Answering these questions can help you see your emotional patterns and may help you recognize when you might be entering a mood episode.

Setting achievable goals

Completing a task can make you feel accomplished, empowered, and productive.

Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks can ensure you feel that sense of accomplishment, even if the overall job hasn’t gotten done. You can also set rewards for yourself to reinforce the positive vibe.

“Setting achievable goals can help you feel more in control of your life and promote positive feelings,” explains Megan Tangradi, LPC, LCADC, clinical director at Achieve Wellness & Recovery in Northfield, New Jersey.

Healthy lifestyle with or without bipolar disorder

Many of the lifestyle habits that can promote a positive mindset are universal — regardless of your mental health state.

“To promote positivity and manage symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s vital to adopt a healthy lifestyle that supports well-being,” explains Dr. Jon Shaywitz, a board certified psychiatrist and medical director at Montare Behavioral Health in Los Angeles, California.

He says that regular sleep and exercise are crucial for regulating mood changes and improving overall health, and a well-balanced and nutritious diet can provide the body and brain with the energy and nutrients necessary for optimal functioning.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by negativity in a given moment, it’s not too late to pull yourself out.

Disconnecting from social media

Borek recommends taking a break from social media. She explains that stress-related searches can often trigger algorithms that show you more negative, stress-related things.

Having a go-to physical activity

Can’t shake the negativity? Shaywitz suggests having a physical activity you can engage in to release endorphins and encourage relaxation. This could be yoga, going for a walk, or dancing to your favorite music.

Doing deep breathing

“Taking a few minutes each day to practice deep breathing exercises can help improve focus,” suggests Tangradi. “This can be done in any comfortable position and consists of breathing deeply, slowly, and evenly to create a calming effect.”

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is a skill that involves in-the-moment awareness, acceptance, and release of thoughts and emotions without dwelling on them

According to a 2018 study, mindfulness can promote present-moment acceptance and encourage positive emotions in daily life.

While there are a number of things to do to stay positive with bipolar disorder, there are also things that you should avoid doing.

Shaywitz recommends that people living with bipolar disorder avoid:

  • substance misuse
  • lack of sleep
  • high-stress situations
  • sudden changes in routine
  • skipping medication
  • isolation

Tangradi adds that one should avoid skipping out on self-care. “It is essential to make time for yourself to practice positive lifestyle habits, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in enjoyable activities, and eating nutritious foods.”

Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, and it’s OK to not feel positive all the time. You can work toward a positive mindset in small ways, but it often starts with self-kindness.

“And lastly, be patient and kind to yourself,” Shaywitz says. “Bipolar disorder can be a long journey, but remember that recovery is possible. Try to focus on the positive and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.”