Coping with your symptoms is possible — even if it can feel really challenging at times.
You can do many things on a daily basis to help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder and minimize any challenges that come up.
The first step is getting support from a mental health professional. They can help you create and maintain a treatment plan that works for you.
A combination of medication and therapy is effective for treating bipolar disorder. But you can also be an active player in your treatment by learning coping strategies that you can do on your own to further improve your quality of life.
If you’re newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the first thing you can do is become an expert on your condition.
Learning more about your diagnosis will provide you with the tools to manage your symptoms and advocate for yourself.
There’s a wealth of information out there about bipolar disorder including the basics, the research, and lived experiences.
Not all information you find will be useful, though. Look for trustworthy websites that provide accurate and research-based content, or advocacy groups such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
While you’re digging in, consider taking notes on:
- Symptoms of bipolar disorder. This will help you recognize your symptoms and understand them better. You won’t experience all possible symptoms, but taking note of them may come in handy if you develop new symptoms down the line.
- Symptom triggers. What types of things can trigger mood episodes or symptoms? You can compare the triggers you find in your research with what you’ve experienced first hand.
- Treatment options available. Knowing your options means you can play a more active role in choosing the treatment plan that’s right for you. It also means that if your treatment needs to be adjusted at some point, you’ll have knowledge ready to discuss with your healthcare team.
You may also want to search for the latest scientific data on bipolar disorder symptom management and treatments. Staying up to date on the research can bring about new treatment opportunities and possible clinical trials to join.
Information is empowering. Educating yourself on everything related to bipolar disorder will help you recognize what you can and can’t control.
With knowledge comes power — the power to stay on track with your treatment plan and play an active role in making decisions regarding your health.
This means you can do two important things:
- recognize your triggers
- monitor your moods
Remember, things change. What was true for you a few months ago might no longer be the case. Keeping track of your symptoms will allow you to acknowledge changes and measure your progress.
This is a process. The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to apply to managing your bipolar disorder.
Recognize your triggers and early signs
The goal of learning to recognize your triggers is that you can anticipate how a situation will affect you. This way, you can also lower the chance of having a major mood episode such as mania or depression.
Questions you can ask yourself:
- Was I irritable a few days before?
- Did I feel more tired than usual?
- Was it difficult for me to concentrate?
- Was I sleeping more or fewer hours than usual?
There might also be some situations that triggered a mood episode in the past. For example, a job deadline, seasonal changes, lack of sleep, or interpersonal conflicts.
Not everyone responds to the same triggers in the same way. This is why it can be helpful to recognize what affects you most.
You might need additional support during these times. By recognizing the trigger, you can move to action and prevent a crisis or major episode.
Monitor how you feel
Recognizing your triggers goes hand-in-hand with monitoring your moods.
Checking in with yourself daily on how you feel can help you recognize any red flags or patterns.
If, for example, you know irritability often comes before an episode of mania, you can be proactive when you start to feel irritable. But if you’re not usually aware of how you feel, you might miss this opportunity.
Journaling can be a great tool to accomplish this, and you can go as deep or light as you want.
You can also reflect on your emotional states and relationships. It’s all up to you and what you find most helpful and practical.
If you find it hard to remember to log or journal, you can also grab an app that sends you reminders to do so. There are many out there, such as eMoods (for tracking symptoms) or CBT Thought Diary (for an app-based mood journal).
At first, especially early after your diagnosis, it can be challenging to tell whether a “high mood” is really the beginning of a manic episode or whether you’re just feeling more confident, creative, and socially at ease.
However, the more you track your triggers and moods, the easier it will be to establish a link.
It can be a strain watching out for symptoms all the time, particularly when you’re first learning about how bipolar disorder affects your life.
Getting a handle on your condition is by no means instant — it can take some time to figure it out. But in time, keeping track of your health will help you gain more insight into your moods.
This, in turn, can lead to greater self-confidence and better treatment management.
Having an effective support system might seem like work to you, but it’s worth it.
To improve on this aspect, there are a few things you can try:
- educate others about bipolar disorder
- establish new relationships
- join a support group
- stay connected
Strengthening your support system might start by educating your family and friends about bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder — like many mental health conditions — is still pretty misunderstood and stigmatized. If a loved one doesn’t have any prior experience with bipolar disorder, they might not know what it is or how best to support you.
Once you’ve done your own research, your friends and family can benefit from your knowledge and understanding. Not to mention, you’re an expert on you.
Educating others about bipolar disorder cannot only break down stigma, but it can also build your support system. They may know you’re having a hard time, but not how to help or support you — your knowledge can give them the tools.
Understanding symptoms, triggers, and different ways to cope can give them perspective and a better idea of how to be there for you.
Establish new relationships
Talking with people about how you feel and what you’re going through can help relieve any stress you’re feeling.
Having someone to listen — even if they can’t actually do something to change how you feel — can make it easier to cope.
Set a goal to meet new people (whether in person or through online communities), or strengthen the relationships you already have at home and work.
You don’t need to be looking for best friendship from everyone. You might find it’s just nice to have someone to grab a cup of coffee with, watch movies, play video games online together, or anything else you enjoy doing.
Consider taking a class, attending church, volunteering somewhere, or going to local events.
Join a support group
If you don’t know anyone with bipolar disorder, you can often start feeling alone and isolated.
But you’re not alone — according to the World Health Organization,
Joining a support group can give you a safe space to speak freely about how you feel, learn from others’ experiences, and receive valuable advice and resources.
The following resources can be a good starting point for your search:
You might not always feel like being around people — and you don’t have to be if you don’t want to. But counting and relying on others can provide you with a sense of safety.
You can stay connected to others in different ways:
- Let people know when you want to be alone, but check in often to say, “I’m okay.”
- Write a letter to someone who you might not have the chance to see often.
- Open up and talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.
- Call friends and relatives as often as you can. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation every time.
- Find a friend who wants to be a workout buddy. You can join a gym together, go on walks, take a class, or just check in weekly on your progress.
- Schedule a weekly or monthly date with friends or loved ones.
- Update your social media accounts and reply to comments.
- Send a good morning and good night text message to a friend or relative.
- Ask others to tell you about their day and lives.
- Ask a relative or close friend to check in with you from time to time if they haven’t heard from you in a while.
- Find out if a counselor or support team member can talk to you at your job or school.
Routines bring structure to our lives and can give us a sense of stability.
But the routine itself is up to you — there’s no pressure to follow a routine that’s inaccessible or too hard to manage. You can also switch up your routine on weekdays and weekends, or every few months if needed.
There are many ways to build a routine that works for you. Check out these ideas to get started:
- Get quality sleep. Sleep is essential for mental well-being, so try to ensure you’re getting at least 7 hours but no more than 9 hours of sleep every day (including naps!). Create a good sleep environment too, by avoiding screens before bed and relaxing about an hour before you want to sleep. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day if you can.
- Plan to exercise. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Anything that keeps you moving works — from swimming to dancing to traditional gym workouts. On days when you’re feeling depressed, a short walk or indoor stretching can make a difference.
- Make a schedule. Try writing down and following a daily agenda or calendar if you can’t keep too many things the same from day to day. Set up alarms if that will help keep you on track. You can set reminders to switch activities, take breaks, eat something, or call a friend.
- Make time for relaxation and you time. Life isn’t all about work or responsibilities. Save time in your day for socializing and relaxing. It can be easier to include this when it’s a constant in your routine.
Stressful life events are sometimes difficult to avoid, but having a few stress management strategies in place can help you cope.
Research suggests that ongoing stress can trigger mood episodes in someone with bipolar disorder.
To better manage daily stress, see if some of these strategies work for you:
- Don’t take on more than you can handle. Ask for help if you need it, whether at work or at home.
- Save time for relaxation every day, even (and particularly) when you’re very busy.
- Do something you enjoy every day. It could be reading a book, listening to your favorite music, taking a bath, playing with your pet, or anything else that makes you smile.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Some effective ones include yoga, tai chi, meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises.
- Pamper yourself. You could get a massage, take a bath, treat yourself to an appointment at a hair or nail salon, or do a face mask at home. Think of all the ways your mind and body feel at ease and try making time for them.
As you learn your symptoms, how they affect you, and what treatments work best for you, you’ll discover many effective self-care strategies.
It may be a lot of trial and error at first, but what matters is finding what’s right for you.
Some other strategies to keep in mind:
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, especially if you’re taking prescription medications. They may cause an interaction and unwanted side effects.
- Limit certain foods, like caffeine or added sugars.
- Avoid too much darkness. Open your windows and curtains as often as you can. Spend some time outdoors every day, if possible.
- Pick a “go-to” person or two for challenging days. Let them know in advance so they can give you their full attention and support when you reach out.
- Keep up with your therapy and medication schedule. Let your treatment team know of any new side effects, symptoms, or issues you’re having.
- Ask for help when you need to.
With a combination of medications, therapy, and self-care strategies, you can live well with bipolar disorder. There are many options, so work with your treatment team to find the best ones for you.