8 Realistic Tips for Coping with Bipolar Disorder
By Skylar Childress
Be honest — you’ve probably Googled “tips for coping with bipolar disorder” before. You’ll get thousands of self-help tips, most of them from qualified professionals (so it’s pretty good advice).
But it’s different when you’re living with the disorder. You’re the expert when it comes to your mood episodes. So you need to know how people living with bipolar actually cope with it, not just what’s recommended by psychologists.
I won’t tell you to “avoid caffeine, eat a balanced diet, and get enough exercise.” Those might be useful. But in the midst of the bipolar life, they don’t help me. Because they don’t account for how bipolar disorder affects me.
So here’s 8 coping strategies from one bipolar person to another (I promise, no B.S.).
- IDENTIFY TRIGGERS
Triggers for a manic or depressive episode vary from person to person. It’s based on your unique experience of the disorder. Common triggers range from caffeine or alcohol use to seasonal changes or an erratic schedule. Again, it’s different for each person. Three factors that are significant triggers for me are:
- Stress (positive or negative), especially if it builds up
- Sleep problems
- Medication changes
- MANAGE STRESS
Since stress is a huge trigger for bipolar episodes, learning to keep stress levels to a minimum is essential. I identified four ways to care for your mental health with simple steps and links to resources that will get you started. There are a few common tips to manage stress I’d recommend:
- Journaling (and tracking your moods)
- Yoga (or other relaxation techniques)
- Practicing creativity
Learning to say NO is a big stress reliever, no matter how hard it may be. There are events or responsibilities you know will make your stress worse. It might be work responsibilities or social occasions. Say NO to these things (or ask others for help if you can’t get out of them). For me, social commitments are a huge stressor. I hate making plans with people (doesn’t matter who). It’s mainly because of my social anxiety — I struggle to have conversations and interactions or attend events where there will be people. It’s too overwhelming. So I decline on a regular basis. I don’t need the extra stress.
- PRIORITIZE SLEEP
Sleep is so crucial for mental wellness. Irregular sleep patterns or sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep) can trigger a bipolar episode. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and it’ll become a habit. I’ve had chronic insomnia for about 7 years, which is why I wrote a blog post about alternative ways to handle sleep problems.
- MONITOR YOUR MEDICATIONS
For many of us with bipolar disorder, medication is a must. It can be hard to find the right combination of meds to balance your mood swings, but getting a handle on it pays off. Regardless, med changes can screw with your moods while your brain’s getting adjusted to the new chemicals. Find a workable combo of medication and never skip a dose, no matter what your mood is like. Trust me, taking meds regularly helps with functioning “normally.”
- STICK TO A SCHEDULE
You may already have a regular schedule if you work a 9-5 job. But it may vary for others — part-time work shifts, self-employment, night shifts. Sit down and plan out your day; the parts of it you can control. Predictability goes a long way in keeping your mood levels steady. Your daily schedule shouldn’t need to be a trigger for a bipolar episode.
- TAKE PRECAUTIONS
Whether you’re in the midst of a manic episode or a depressive episode, you’ll notice patterns in your behavior. Some of these patterns work against your mental health, even to the point of being self-destructive. Prepare for these patterns by creating a plan you’ll stick with. For manic episodes, avoid impulsive or risk-taking behaviors. Clip your credit cards (or set a spending limit) and throw out the alcohol or drugs. For depressive episodes, make commitments you’ll have to do. It might be scheduling regular social interaction (like joining a book club or support group) or taking on a project (such as a blog or weekly newsletter). For me, it was adopting a pet. It helped to have company and need to take care of someone other than myself.
- RELEASE YOUR CREATIVITY
This is good for both depression and mania. Choose a creative outlet; it doesn’t matter what. Be persistent in practicing creativity, and it’ll help release the intense emotions your mood is causing. My creative releases are writing and listening to music. During manic episodes, I’ll blast electronic music and dance because my body can’t contain all the energy. I’ll start a hundred different writing projects and type like crazy because there are too many words inside my head. During depressive episodes, I put on headphones and blast music while curled up in a ball on the floor, just letting myself feel and be carried away by the music. I struggle to type any words because what comes out is raw and sometimes scary. But that’s okay, because at least I’m doing it.
- ASK FOR HELP
You need emotional support to manage your moods. Typically, this means professional help, such as talking with a therapist or psychiatrist. You could reach out to family or close friends who can be there for you. Whenever I changed medications or felt a manic episode coming on, I asked a close friend for accountability. He checked in with me regularly to make sure I was okay and tell me if I was acting out of the ordinary.
It’s complicated functioning with bipolar disorder, but it’s not impossible. Only you know how your moods affect you. Try a few of these changes and you’ll find yourself in a more stable state. And you’ll be ready for when the next episode hits.
Check Out Her Blog The Dysfunctional Mind: HERE