A Vital Part of Successfully Managing Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can feel like a roller coaster in the dark. You don’t know when the turns or drops are coming. You don’t know when you’ll be flipped upside-down. And once you do, it’s too late. You’re in a manic episode, doing things you’ll regret. You’re in a depressive episode, too exhausted to get out of bed.
You feel like you’re being whipped around by an erratic condition, and you have zero control. You’re simply along for the ride. Which is why self-awareness is so vital. Self-awareness is essential to successfully managing bipolar disorder—and not feeling like you’re plunging headfirst into an abyss.
You can learn how your bipolar disorder manifests and functions. You can identify your personal triggers and red flags that signal an episode coming on. You can begin understanding how certain behaviors, habits, relationships, stressors may be exacerbating the condition. And you can intervene. You can find coping strategies that work best for you. You can create a preventative plan.
While there are commonalities among people with bipolar disorder, your illness is as unique as you are. “People living with bipolar disorder experience their own unique set of symptoms and mood fluctuations,” said Colleen King, LMFT, a psychotherapist, artist, and nature lover living with bipolar disorder and passionate about helping others with mood disorders live a full and joyful life.
And, thankfully, as you develop a better, deeper understanding of your bipolar disorder, you can use self-care practices and healthy coping strategies “to gain a sense of control over it, and increase your self-confidence and self-worth,” she said. Here’s how.
Practice 5-1-7 breathing. Deep breathing is a powerful way to pause, and give yourself the space to self-reflect. Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a psychologist who specializes in mood disorders, suggested this exercise: Find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Place one hand on your heart, and the other hand on your belly. Count to 5 as you inhale. Hold your breath for 1 second. Then exhale for 7 seconds. Focus on your body and the experience of peace in your mind. Repeat this exercise several times.
Learn to listen mindfully. Practice tuning into pleasant sounds in your environment. For instance, you might notice the birds chirping, kids laughing or rain falling, said Serani, who’s written several books on depression. “If your space doesn’t have such sounds, create it by playing soundscape music.”
Pay attention to dates. Serani suggested looking at the calendar and marking dates that may be difficult for you. This might be a date your loved one died. It might be the birthday of an ex, a time you’d do something special. It might be “the season of year an accident happened,” she said.
Then think about what you need on this day. Serani shared this example: The day your mom passed away is very upsetting for you, so you remind others a few weeks before, and ask for extra support and love.
Pay attention to your emotional experiences. Serani stressed the importance of noticing the experiences that make you emotional—and considering these questions: Do I get emotional when someone treats me a certain way? Do certain words set me off? Which scents do I find comforting or distressing?