Coping with bipolar disorder


Living with Bipolar Disorder

These self-help tips can help you manage bipolar disorder, cope with symptoms, and prevent relapse.

No matter how down or out of control you feel, it’s important to remember that you’re not powerless when it comes to bipolar disorder. Beyond the treatment you get from your doctor or therapist, there are many things you can do for yourself to reduce your symptoms and stay on track.

Living well with bipolar disorder requires certain adjustments. Like diabetics who take insulin or recovering alcoholics who avoid drinking, if you have bipolar disorder, it’s important to make healthy choices for yourself. Making these healthy choices will help you keep your symptoms under control, minimize mood episodes, and take control of your life.

Managing bipolar disorder starts with proper treatment, including medication and therapy. But there is so much more you can do to help yourself on a day-to-day basis. These tips can help you influence the course of your illness, enabling you to take greater control over your symptoms, to stay well longer, and to quickly rebound from any mood episode or relapse.

Living with bipolar disorder tip 1: Get involved in your treatment

Be a full and active participant in your own treatment. Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder. Become an expert on the illness. Study up on the symptoms, so you can recognize them in yourself, and research all your available treatment options. The more informed you are, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with symptoms and make good choices for yourself.

Using what you’ve learned about bipolar disorder, collaborate with your doctor or therapist in the treatment planning process. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions or questions. The most beneficial relationships between patient and healthcare provider work as a partnership. You may find it helpful to draw up a treatment contract outlining the goals you and your provider have agreed upon.

Improve your treatment by:

Being patient. Don’t expect an immediate and total cure. Have patience with the treatment process. It can take time to find the right program that works for you.

Communicating with your treatment provider. Your treatment program will change over time, so keep in close contact with your doctor or therapist. Talk to your provider if your condition or needs change and be honest about your symptoms and any medication side effects.

Taking your medication as instructed. If you’re taking medication, follow all instructions and take it faithfully. Don’t skip or change your dose without first talking with your doctor.

Getting therapy. While medication may be able to manage some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, therapy teaches you skills you can use in all areas of your life. Therapy can help you learn how to deal with your disorder, cope with problems, regulate your mood, change the way you think, and improve your relationships.

Tip 2: Monitor your symptoms and moods

In order to stay well, it’s important to be closely attuned to the way you feel. By the time obvious symptoms of mania or depression appear, it is often too late to intercept the mood swing, so keep a close watch for subtle changes in your mood, sleeping patterns, energy level, and thoughts. If you catch the problem early and act swiftly, you may be able to prevent a minor mood change from turning into a full-blown episode of mania or depression.

Know your triggers and early warning signs

It’s important to recognize the warning signs of an oncoming manic or depressive episode. Make a list of early symptoms that preceded your previous mood episodes. Also try to identify the triggers, or outside influences, that have led to mania or depression in the past. Common triggers include:

  • stress
  • financial difficulties
  • arguments with your loved ones
  • problems at school or work
  • seasonal changes
  • lack of sleep

Common red flags for relapse

Warning signs of depression

  • You’ve stopped cooking your own meals.
  • You’ve stopped mixing with friends.
  • People bother you.
  • You crave sugary food such as chocolate.
  • You’re getting frequent headaches.
  • You don’t care about others.
  • You need more sleep and take naps during the day.

Warning signs of mania or hypomania

  • You can’t concentrate.
  • You find myself reading lots of books at once.
  • You’re talking faster than normal.
  • You feel irritable.
  • You’re hungry all the time.
  • Friends have commented on your irritable mood.
  • You have more energy than usual so need to be moving.

Knowing your early warning signs and triggers won’t do you much good if you aren’t keeping close tabs on how you’re feeling. By checking in with yourself through regular mood monitoring, you can be sure that red flags don’t get lost in the shuffle of your busy, daily life.

Keeping a mood chart is one way to monitor your symptoms and moods. A mood chart is a daily log of your emotional state and other symptoms you’re having. It can also include information such as how many hours of sleep you’re getting, your weight, medications you’re taking, and any alcohol or drug use. You can use your mood chart to spot patterns and indicators of trouble ahead.

Develop a wellness toolbox

If you spot any warning signs of mania or depression, it’s important to act swiftly. In such times, it’s helpful to have a wellness toolbox to draw from. A wellness toolbox consists of coping skills and activities you can do to maintain a stable mood or to get better when you’re feeling “off.”

The coping techniques that work best will be unique to your situation, symptoms, and preferences. It takes experimentation and time to find a winning strategy. However, many people with bipolar disorder have found the following tools to be helpful in reducing symptoms and maintaining wellness:

  • Talk to a supportive person
  • Get a full eight hours of sleep
  • Cut back on your activities
  • Attend a support group
  • Call your doctor or therapist
  • Do something fun or creative, or write in your journal
  • Take time for yourself to relax and unwind
  • Increase your exposure to light
  • Exercise
  • Ask for extra help from loved ones
  • Cut back on sugar, alcohol, and caffeine
  • Increase or decrease the stimulation in your environment

Create an emergency action plan

Despite your best efforts, there may be times when you experience a relapse into full-blown mania or severe depression. In crisis situations where your safety is at stake, your loved ones or doctor may have to take charge of your care. Such times can leave you feeling helpless and out of control, but having a crisis plan in place allows you to maintain some degree of responsibility for your own treatment.

A plan of action typically includes:

A list of emergency contacts – your doctor, therapist, close family members

A list of all medications you are taking, including dosage information

Symptoms that indicate you need others to take responsibility for your care, and information about any other health problems you have

Treatment preferences – who you want to care for you, what treatments and medications do and do not work, who is authorized to make decisions on your behalf

Tip 3: Reach out for face-to-face connection

Having a strong support system is essential to staying happy and healthy. Often, simply having someone to talk to face-to-face can be an enormous help in relieving bipolar depression and boosting your outlook and motivation. The people you turn to don’t have to be able to “fix” you; they just have to be good listeners. The more people that you can turn to who will be available and good listeners, the more likely you are to manage your moods.

Don’t isolate! – Support for bipolar disorder starts close to home. It’s important to have people you can count on to help you through rough times. Isolation and loneliness can cause depression, so regular contact with supportive friends and family members is therapeutic in itself. Reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness and it won’t make you a burden. Support for bipolar disorder starts close to home. Your loved ones care about you and want to help. In order to manage bipolar disorder, it’s essential that you have people you can count on to help you through rough times.

Join a bipolar disorder support group – Spending time with people who know what you’re going through and can honestly say they’ve “been there” can be very therapeutic. You can also benefit from the shared experiences and advice of the group members.

Build new relationships – Isolation and loneliness make bipolar disorder worse. If you don’t have a support network you can count on, take steps to develop new relationships. Try taking a class, joining a church or a civic group, volunteering, or attending events in your community.

10 tips for reaching out and building relationships

  1. Talk to one person about your feelings.
  2. Help someone else by volunteering.
  3. Have lunch or coffee with a friend.
  4. Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly.
  5. Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together.
  6. Call or email an old friend.
  7. Go for a walk with a workout buddy.
  8. Schedule a weekly dinner date
  9. Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.
  10. Confide in a counselor, therapist, or clergy member.

Tip 4: Develop an active daily routine

Your lifestyle choices, including your sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns, have a significant impact on your moods. There are many things you can do in your daily life to get your symptoms under control and to keep depression and mania at bay.

Build structure into your life. Developing and sticking to a daily schedule can help stabilize the mood swings of bipolar disorder. Include set times for sleeping, eating, socializing, exercising, working, and relaxing. Try to maintain a regular pattern of activity even through emotional ups and downs.

Exercise frequently and avoid sitting for long periods of time. Exercise has a beneficial impact on mood and may reduce the number of bipolar episodes you experience. Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming dancing, climbing or drumming – all activities that keep both arms and legs active are especially effective at treating depression. Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of activity into your daily routine. Ten minutes here and there is just as effective as exercising for longer periods of time. Walking is a good choice for people of all fitness levels.

Keep a strict sleep schedule. Getting too little sleep can trigger mania, so it’s important to get plenty of rest. For some people, losing even a few hours can cause problems. However, too much sleep can also worsen your mood. The best advice is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits for managing bipolar disorder

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid or minimize napping, especially if it interferes with your sleep at night.
  • Instead of viewing screens or other stimulating activities before bed, try taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music.
  • Limit caffeine after lunch and alcohol at night as both interfere with sleep.

Tip 5: Keep stress to a minimum

Stress can trigger episodes of mania and depression in people with bipolar disorder, so keeping it under control is extremely important. Know your limits, both at home and at work or school. Don’t take on more than you can handle and take time to yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Learn how to relax. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and guided imagery can be very effective at reducing stress and keeping you on an even keel. A daily relaxation practice can improve your mood and keep depression at bay.

Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.

Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to your senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.

Tip 6: Watch what you put in your body

From the food you eat to the vitamins and drugs you take, the substances you put in your body have an impact on the symptoms of bipolar disorder—for better or worse.

Eat a healthy diet. There is an undeniable link between food and mood. For optimal mood, eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limit your fat and sugar intake. Space your meals out through the day, so your blood sugar never dips too low. High-carbohydrate diets can cause mood crashes, so they should also be avoided. Other mood-damaging foods include chocolate, caffeine, and processed foods.

Get your omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease mood swings in bipolar disorder. You can increase your intake of omega-3 by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, and sardines, soybeans, flaxseeds, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 is also available as a nutritional supplement.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines can trigger mania, while alcohol and tranquilizers can trigger depression. Even moderate social drinking can upset your emotional balance. Substance use also interferes with sleep and may cause dangerous interactions with your medications. Attempts to self-medicate or numb your symptoms with drugs and alcohol only create more problems.

Be cautious when taking any medication. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can be problematic for people with bipolar disorder. Be especially careful with antidepressant drugs, which can trigger mania. Other drugs that can cause mania include over-the-counter cold medicine, appetite suppressants, caffeine, corticosteroids, and thyroid medication.

What to know about bipolar disorder and anger

There are many ways to manage bipolar anger and irritability, including the following strategies:

Sticking to a treatment plan

Effectively managing bipolar disorder is the best way to reduce irritability and anger.

Working with a doctor on a treatment plan that includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication is often the most effective way to manage bipolar disorder.

Once both parties agree on a treatment plan, consistency is key. Sticking to treatments in the long-term may reduce how frequent or severe mood episodes are.

Journaling to understand triggers

Share on PinterestKeeping a journal can help a person recognize what triggers their anger.

Journaling can help a person with bipolar disorder understand what triggers anger and irritability. To use this strategy, a person can try:

  • writing down events that triggered shifts in mood
  • identifying what was happening when irritability last led to anger
  • planning ways to avoid these triggers or responding differently

This approach may reduce the likelihood of getting angry next time.

Planning with loved ones

Making a support plan with family and friends may help a person with bipolar disorder reduce the impact of irritability. A support plan can include:

  • sharing triggers of irritability and anger
  • listing calming strategies that help
  • agreeing on how family members and friends can best offer support

Managing stress

Managing the body’s physical response to stress may reduce the likelihood of mood episodes that cause irritability. Stress-reducing activities that can help include:

  • yoga
  • mindfulness
  • meditation

Trying cognitive behavioral therapy

According to research, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT shows promise as a treatment for anger. It may also help people who have bipolar disorder manage irritability and other aspects of their condition.

Trying CBT may also support a person’s ability to manage bipolar disorder in the long-term.

Adjusting medication

If a person with bipolar disorder has long-term issues with irritability and anger, they should discuss it with their doctor. It may be a sign that their treatment plan needs adjustment.

One study suggests that taking citalopram in addition to a mood stabilizer may help to reduce anger, but “trait anger” (not related to bipolar symptoms) is also a predictor.

Coping With Bipolar Mood Swings

“A number of triggers can set off or worsen bipolar episodes,” says Michael First, MD, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. The most common triggers for bipolar mood swings are:

  • Stress from major life events, both positive and negative
  • Lack of sleep
  • Erratic schedules
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants and corticosteroids
  • Seasonal changes (for example, winter can worsen depression, while summer can increase the risk of mania)
  • Stopping bipolar meds or varying the treatment schedule
  • Thyroid problems
  • Substance abuse

Mood Swings: Coping Strategies

While some triggers — like seasonal changes or a stressful event — may be impossible to avoid, lifestyle changes and mood-management strategies can make a big difference. Try the following suggestions from experts for managing and coping with mood swings.

  • Control stress. Stress is a major bipolar trigger. Do what you can to simplify your life and relieve stress in your work and personal life. See if your spouse, family members, and friends can help with household responsibilities. “If you have a job that requires crazy hours and lots of travel, you may want to switch to a less-stressful job,” suggests Dr. First. Stress-management techniques, such as meditation, visualization, and yoga, can also help.
  • Keep a regular schedule. Stick to a routine to help control mood swings. “Bipolar people don’t do well with lots of changes,” says First. Have meals, do errands, exercise, and go to bed about the same time every day.
  • Practice healthy sleep habits. Being overtired can trigger mania in some bipolar people. Relax before bed by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a warm bath. Experts also recommend that you make your bedroom a calming place and use it only for sleep and sex. Be disciplined about your sleep habits. “It’s common for people with bipolar disorder to stay up late watching movies, playing video games, or surfing the Internet, which can make mood swings worse,” says Carrie Bearden, PhD, a bipolar-disorder expert and associate professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at UCLA.
  • Get moving. Studies show that regular exercise can help improve mood. Start slowly by taking a walk around the neighborhood. Gradually work up to exercising on most days of the week.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can keep you up at night and exacerbate manic episodes. Cut back on coffee and soda, especially at night. Alcohol and drugs can affect how your medications work and possibly trigger a mood episode.
  • Write it down. Keep a journal that makes note of big events, stresses, how much sleep you’re getting, and what you’re eating and drinking. Over time, you may see patterns emerging. By knowing what your triggers are, you may be able to prepare for times when you might be most vulnerable to mood swings.

While these lifestyle changes and coping strategies can help manage mood swings, they won’t make bipolar disorder magically disappear. However, knowing what your triggers are and taking steps to manage them can help prevent a minor mood swing from becoming a serious problem.

Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder that affects all areas of life, including your mood, energy level, attention, and behaviors. While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, many people with the diagnosis end up living full and healthy lives. Managing symptoms of the disorder typically requires a combination of doctor support, medication, and therapy. But there are many changes you can make to your day-to-day life to prevent mood episodes and to decrease their intensity and frequency.

Living with bipolar disorder successfully requires a combination of skills. Advocating for yourself, getting educated, and finding the right support network are important beginning key elements to recovery1. Here are some action steps to help you start building and using these skills in your daily life.

#1. Stay Connected – The more you isolate yourself, the more you increase the risk of mood changes going unnoticed and jeopardizing your health. Lack of connection to others can also put you at risk for a depressive episode. So don’t hesitate to assemble of team of professionals to provide guidance and insight. Doctors, counselors, and others can be a part of your support system, and many people find that attending a support group for people with bipolar disorder can be invaluable. Staying engaged with friends, family, and members of your community can also play an important role in keeping you energized and providing support.

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#2, Educate Yourself – Education starts with learning the symptoms of manic and depressive episodes and getting up-to-date on research-driven treatment options for bipolar disorder. Share your questions and concerns with your doctor or psychiatrist, and ask them what resources they recommend for you to read or gather. Understanding the illness can help it feel more manageable and assist you in identifying symptoms before they get worse.

#3. Track Symptoms – Many people with bipolar disorder find it useful to keep a daily log of their mood, thinking, and behaviors. If you are able to catch small changes in these arenas, then you may be able to stop or decrease the intensity of a mood episode before it worsens. You should can also track stressors or behaviors which may trigger a mood episode, such as lack of sleep, relationship conflict, school or work stress, substance use, or seasonal changes. The more accurately you can report these changes to yourself and your doctor, the greater chance of stabilizing your mood.

#4. Engage Coping Skills – In addition to alerting your counselor or doctor, you can utilize coping skills to control symptoms or reduce your risk for a mood episode. Different coping techniques work for different people, but they typically involve activities that help you feel calm, stay connected to others, practice healthy habits, and engage interests. Having a list of coping skills available to you can be useful, as it might prove difficult to generate your own ideas when you feel a lack of control.

#5. Establish a Routine – Perhaps the greatest coping skill for preventing mania or depression is the establishment of a healthy, daily routine. You should be taking medication consistently and accurately. Getting consistent and sufficient sleep every night can reduce the risk of mania.2 Getting healthy and exercising can help improve and stabilize your mood as well. Schedule regular times to dedicate to family and friends, attend all doctor’s appointments, and carve out time to relax and unwind from life’s stressors.

#6. Develop a Crisis Plan – There are times when even the best routine and set of coping skills may fail to prevent a mood episode from escalating. It’s important, even while you’re feeling good, to go ahead and develop a crisis plan you can activate when you feel out of control. Create a written plan with a list of people that you or others can contact in emergency as well as information about your medications and warning signs and symptoms. Also, include a list hotline numbers that you can call if you experience suicidal thoughts or psychotic symptoms. Finally, leave a reminder to yourself that you can always call 911, walk into an emergency room, or ask a loved one to get you help if other measures fail.

If you’re not sure where to start, mental health professionals are trained to help you develop a treatment plan that can engage all of these actions steps. Having a concrete plan can help you feel more in control of your bipolar disorder, and over time you can tailor or alter this plan as needed. Bipolar disorder doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, so think about who you can recruit today to help you build up resilience and thrive in all arenas of life.

Article Sources Last Updated: Jul 22, 2019

Why self-help strategies for bipolar are effective

If you’re diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s really important to work with a mental health professional rather than try to manage the condition on your own. However, research has shown that self-help strategies that are planned with your mental health practitioner can make a huge difference in managing your bipolar disorder.

Changes in mood can often be triggered by stress or changes in sleep. Having a daily routine and looking after yourself is important for everyone, but it’s even more important for someone with bipolar disorder. There are a lot of different strategies you can try that may help with the day-to-day management of your mood.

Self-help strategies for bipolar disorder

  • Monitor your mood. Keep track of your mood daily, including factors such as sleep, medication and events that may influence mood. Use a chart or app to help.
  • Develop a schedule. Routine is important in keeping your mood stable. Organise a schedule and try to stick to it regardless of your mood, to help maintain stability.
  • Sleep hygiene. Disruption to sleep cycles can influence circadian rhythms and have a negative impact on mood. Read about getting into a sleep routine.
  • Limit stress. Where possible, limit stressors in your life and don’t take on too many commitments. This might mean taking one less subject for a semester or working shorter hours.
  • Take your time in making decisions. Or ask others such as a trusted family member or friend to help you make decisions if you’re feeling impulsive.
  • Build a good support network. Family and friends can help you manage your day-to-day symptoms by giving an outsider’s perspective on your mood. They can also be there when you need to talk about your more difficult moments.
  • Join a support group. It can be really reassuring to hear from people who are going through similar experiences. Support groups can offer great advice and comfort. You could also start up an anonymous conversation with other young people on the ReachOut Forums.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise is helpful as a way to help manage mood.
  • Take time to relax. Relaxation is effective in reducing stress.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. These can make our moods worse. If you’re on medication, alcohol and drugs can be particularly dangerous. Talk to your psychiatrist or GP.
  • Take medications only as prescribed. Never make changes to medication without talking to your psychiatrist or GP.
  • Make a wellbeing plan. Keep a record of your plans for how to manage sleep and routines, how to manage highs and lows, and details of contacts if you need help. Make this plan with your mental health professional and give a copy to family and friends.
  • Make a suicide safety plan. Prepare how to manage low moods and suicidal thoughts.

Top 10 Ways To Cope With Bipolar Mood Swings

By bp Magazine

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Dramatic swings between the highs of mania and the lows of depression can seem like a never-ending battle. While it’s always more beneficial to prepare for the times when you might be more sensitive, there are ways to cope during a mood episode.

#1 Look for patterns or signs

Be on the look out for signs that you may be entering a period of depression or mania. Besides a shift in your mood, be aware of changes in sleep, energy levels, alcohol or drug use, sex drive, concentration, and self-esteem. If you’re in tune with subtle warning signs of an episode, you’re that much closer to heading it off.

#2 Control stress

Since stress is a major bipolar trigger, it’s in your best interest to do what you can to simplify your life and relieve stress in your personal and work life. This may mean asking family members to share more household responsibilities or even considering a new job if yours is high-pressure with long hours.

#3 Write it down

One of the best ways to monitor triggers and early red flags is to keep a mood chart. Use this to check in with yourself throughout the day and log your emotional state and any other symptoms. To spot any patterns, consider logging the number of hours you’re sleeping, medications you’re taking, your weight, and any alcohol or drug use.

#4 Build structure into your life

Irregular habits and day-to-day changes while managing bipolar has been shown in a study to lead to instability. Experts agree that it’s best to stick to a regular routine to help control mood swings. Developing and following a daily schedule can mean having meals, exercising and going to bed about the same time every day.

#5 Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs

Alcohol and sedatives can provoke depression and drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines can trigger mania. Any of these substances can also interfere with sleep and affect how your medications work. Remember that even limited social drinking can upset your state of emotions and possibly spark a mood episode.

#6 Practice healthy sleep habits

It’s best to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, striving to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try and stay disciplined about your sleep habits, being aware that even losing just a few hours can trigger a manic episode, though getting too much sleep can also aggravate your mood.

#7 Get moving

Exercise—especially aerobic, like running, dancing, or swimming—has a beneficial impact on mood swings. It’s best to try for at least 30 minutes of activity daily. The good news: studies have shown this can be broken into ten-minute segments throughout the day. A good start is walking, whether outside or in a mall, as people of any fitness level can do it.

#8 Watch what you eat…

More and more studies show an undeniable relationship between food and mood. The best foods for an optimal mood include fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and healthy fats while limiting sugar intake. Avoid a high-carbohydrate diet as this is a certain mood crasher, as is processed foods, chocolate, and caffeine.

#9 Get healthy fats

Early research shows promise for omega-3 fatty acids decreasing mood swings in bipolar disorder. Increase your intake of omega-3 by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines and halibut, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. If you’re not receiving enough of this healthy fat through diet alone, you can consider an omega-3 nutritional supplement.

#10 Get your thyroid checked

Changes in mood have been linked to thyroid disorders: depressive symptoms in hypothyroidism patients and manic symptoms for patients with hyperthyroidism. In fact, one study assessing outpatients with bipolar found thyroid autoimmunity to be highly prevalent. Therefore, it may be wise to evaluate thyroid function before a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder is made.

How to Deal with the Uncertainty of Bipolar Episodes

During a manic episode, a person will experience feelings of high energy, creativity, and possibly joy. They’ll talk very quickly, get very little sleep, and may act hyperactively. They may also feel invincible, which can lead to risk-taking behaviors.

Symptoms of a manic episode

Some common symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • an unusually “high” or optimistic attitude
  • extreme irritability
  • unreasonable (usually grand) ideas about one’s skills or power — they may criticize partners or family members for not being as “accomplished” as they perceive themselves to be
  • abundant energy
  • racing thoughts that jump between different ideas
  • being easily distracted
  • trouble concentrating
  • impulsiveness and poor judgment
  • reckless behavior with no thought about consequences
  • delusions and hallucinations (less common)

During these episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may act recklessly. Sometimes they go as far as endangering their own life or the lives of people around them. Remember that this person can’t fully control their actions during episodes of mania. Therefore, it’s not always an option to try to reason with them to try to stop behaving a certain way.

Warning signs of a manic episode

It can be helpful to keep an eye out for the warning signs of a manic episode so that you can react accordingly. People with bipolar disorder may show different symptoms, but some common warning signs include:

  • a very sudden lift in mood
  • an unrealistic sense of optimism
  • sudden impatience and irritability
  • a surge in energy and talkativeness
  • an expression of unreasonable ideas
  • spending money in reckless or irresponsible ways

How to help during a manic episode

How to react depends on the severity of the person’s manic episode. In some cases, doctors may recommend that the person increase their medication, take a different medication, or even be brought to the hospital for treatment. Keep in mind that convincing your loved one to go to the hospital may not be easy. This is because they feel really good during these periods and are convinced that nothing is wrong with them.

In general, try to avoid entertaining any grand or unrealistic ideas from your loved one, as this may increase their likelihood to engage in risky behavior. Talk calmly to the person and encourage them to contact their medical provider to discuss the changes in their symptoms.

Taking care of yourself

Some people find that living with a person with a chronic mental health condition like bipolar disorder can be difficult. Negative behaviors exhibited by someone who is manic are often focused on those closest to them.

Honest discussions with your loved one while they’re not having a manic episode, as well as counseling, may be helpful. But if you’re having trouble handling your loved one’s behavior, be sure to reach out for help. Talk to your loved one’s doctor for information, contact family and friends for support, and consider joining a support group.

Recognize and Prevent Depression

The manic and depressive phases of bipolar disorder don’t necessarily follow a pattern. You can have a few bouts of depression before you have a manic phase.

But over time, you’ll notice things that cause changes in your mood and warning signs that depression could be setting in. When you catch those symptoms early, you can often avoid major depression.

Keep a mood chart to track how you feel, your treatments, sleep, and other activities. Take note of times when you feel stressed — maybe when you’re with certain people or in a specific place. The first signs of depression could be that you feel tired and can’t sleep. Short periods of depression can be a sign that a severe phase is coming.

The people around you can help you recognize patterns, too. Ask your family and mental health professional to watch for changes in your behavior that signal an oncoming issue. They may be able to notice things that you don’t.

Even when you feel great, make sure to keep up with your treatment — it can prevent a relapse of depression. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and try new ways to ease stress and manage your moods: Join a support group, take up a hobby, or practice relaxation methods like meditation, yoga, or massage.

2 Shares By The Recovery Village Editor Becky Greiner Reviewer Kevin Wandler Updated on11/22/19

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that creates extreme mood shifts and changes in behavior, thinking, energy levels and sleep patterns. Someone with bipolar disorder may also have periods where they feel high levels of happiness, energy and optimism, known as mania or manic episodes. The frequency and severity of these symptoms can depend on the individual, but there are ways to effectively manage this disorder.

Along with treatment, there are ways you can learn how to overcome bipolar disorder and reduce the symptoms you experience. Overcoming bipolar disorder can also be possible by integrating different awareness and mindfulness techniques into your everyday life. If you work on practicing coping skills and strategies, it can improve the results you get from your bipolar disorder treatment from a licensed mental health professional.

Although there is no cure or quick fix for bipolar disorder, with the right strategies, you can improve your overall quality of life and functionality. Once you receive the right medication and therapy for your needs, the following are some other strategies you can use for overcoming bipolar disorder.

1. Be An Active Participant In Your Treatment

When you receive treatment, make sure that you’re playing an active role in whatever that plan is. Take the time to learn about the disorder, understand all the ways in which it impacts you and ask questions.

A big part of figuring out how to deal with bipolar disorder is getting to know yourself. Learn more about your specific symptoms and see if you can identify any situations or triggers that you might need to avoid.

Once you learn more about bipolar and yourself, you can be a collaborator along with your doctor or therapist to plan your treatment. Be someone who asks questions and shares your concerns. If you have a treatment provider you aren’t comfortable collaborating with or talking to honestly, it’s okay to find someone different who can be a better partner with you on your journey.

2. Go To Therapy

Medication is a valuable component of a bipolar treatment plan, but it’s not the only way to get the help you need. Therapy can be valuable as well to learn coping skills and work on changing the way you think and behave.

Therapy can also be a way to help improve your daily functionality and the quality of your relationships. Your therapist will use the treatment modality that works best for your condition and needs.

3. Closely Observe Your Mood and Symptoms

When you’re learning how to deal with bipolar, make sure you are paying close attention to how you feel, your moods and whether you’re experiencing any symptoms. If you start noticing even minor changes, you may be able to work with your care providers to prevent those challenges from coming much bigger problems.

A journal can be a good way to keep up with your symptoms and spot red flags early on. Another option is to keep a mood chart handy. This is an easy way to reference how you are feeling and see subtle shifts that may need attention.

4. Don’t Isolate Yourself

When you have bipolar disorder, you may feel the urge to isolate yourself from others. You may not want other people to judge you, or you may not even realize you’re withdrawing.

Having a strong social support system is crucial as you learn how to manage bipolar. You will need to have others that you can talk to, and this can help reduce your risk of having a depressive episode.

Your therapist and doctors can be part of your support system. Joining a support group of other people with bipolar disorder can also be beneficial. Make your relationships with friends and family a priority.

5. Develop a Routine

Having a routine is an excellent way to keep yourself on track, ensure that you’re following your treatment plan and help you more effectively manage bipolar disorder. You might even want to write your routine down to keep yourself on track on days when you are feeling off.

When you have a routine, it can help you keep your medications and therapy appointments organized. It can also help you keep yourself accountable for getting enough rest, having meals at regular times, and taking care of yourself overall.

Sleep is one of the most important elements to manage. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it can either trigger a manic episode, or it can be a sign that mania is already occurring. Alternatively, if you’re sleeping more than usual, it could be a sign of a depressive episode. Integrating a sleep schedule into your routine and sticking with it can be one of the most effective ways to quickly diagnose when changes are happening.

6. Focus on Diet and Exercise

The correlation between diet and exercise on our mental health is getting stronger. Exercise is important to boost your mood and can also be a good way to keep yourself engaged and focused on your routine if you’re incorporating time for physical activity every day.

You may find that exercise can become a healthy coping mechanism when you’re experiencing stress or difficulties, and the need to engage in less healthy coping habits may decrease over time.

Following a healthy diet is equally important. Finding the right diet for you is a decision that should be made by your doctor, but not overdoing it on unhealthy options such as sugar, fat, and caffeine can have positive effects on your body.

7. Reduce Your Stress

Stress can be a big trigger for people with bipolar disorder. Identify areas of your life where you experience the most stress and explore better ways to manage it, or eliminate it, if you can. For example, asking a family member or loved one with more help around the house can help you feel less overwhelmed.

If your job is causing you stress, think about what changes are possible and sit down with your direct supervisor to discuss your workload. Being solutions-driven and proactive rather than waiting until a stressful situation has gone too far can help you find long-term resolution in your career.

8. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

It’s not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to rely on drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Substance abuse is often a co-occurring disorder in people with bipolar. However, using drugs or alcohol when you have bipolar disorder can cause adverse side effects and consequences.

Drugs and alcohol can change how your medicines work. They can make symptoms of bipolar disorder worse and can even trigger a manic or depressive episode.

If you feel like you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, this needs to be addressed with your support group and treated along with bipolar disorder.

9. Find Coping Strategies that Work For You

When you are dealing with bipolar disorder, it’s important to identify healthy ways to deal with stress and remain both mentally and physically healthy.

Not all coping strategies will work for all people, but trying different methods out will help you determine what works and what doesn’t. For example, some people might find yoga is a great option for them. Others might not enjoy it. Experiment until you find your go-to coping strategies that work well for you and that you enjoy.

10. Develop An Emergency Plan

If you do feel your symptoms worsening or a manic or depressive episode beginning, have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with it. You should create a crisis plan when you feel good because you’ll be more rational and clear-headed.

Your emergency or crisis plan should include the people you’ll reach out to for support. It should also include what you’ll do if you start to experience severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts. Remind yourself of what medications you need to take, and who to contact if an out-of-control emergency situation arises.

The Recovery Village provides treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders like bipolar disorder. If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, contact us to learn more about treatment.

Smith, Kathleen, Ph.D. “6 Tips to Live Better with Bipolar Disorder.” PsyCom, Nov 25, 2018. Accessed January 19, 2019.

Howard, Gabe. “What Everyday Life Is Like with Bipolar Disorder.” BPHope. June 30, 2015. Accessed January 19, 2019.


How to Care for and Cope With a Bipolar Spouse

Feelings of stress, isolation, and rejection are common among those involved with a bipolar patient. Outside support and education can help. (GETTY IMAGES)

Feelings of stress, isolation, and rejection are common among those involved with a bipolar patient. Outside support and education can help.(GETTY IMAGES)If you’re involved with someone with bipolar disorder, the romantic relationship may be exciting, exhausting, and stressful. But it will rarely be easy, especially if the object of your affection doesn’t comply fully with treatment.

Bipolar disorder can be nearly as traumatic for the partners of those with the disorder as it is for the patients themselves. The episodes of depression and mania that bipolar people experience—which can lead to emotional withdrawal, out-of-the-blue accusations and outbursts, spending sprees, and everything in between—have been shown to induce stress, sexual dissatisfaction, and money worries in their partners, as well as depression. Depressive phases, during which the bipolar partner feels hopeless and sad, can drag a healthy partner down, too.

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“Mental illness is, on some levels, a contagious disease,” says David Karp, PhD, a professor of sociology at Boston College who has studied interpersonal dynamics within bipolar couples. “It brings out very strong negative emotions and feelings of isolation in the partner, who struggles so hard to separate the illness from the patient.”

Relatively few studies have been conducted on the effects of bipolar disorder on relationships, but the research is nearly unanimous that the disorder tends to cause both practical and emotional difficulties for couples.

For starters, the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can disrupt the rhythms and routines of a household. In a 2005 survey of people with bipolar partners published in Bipolar Disorders, more than half of the participants reported that their partners illness had reduced their socializing, required them to assume more household responsibilities, forced them to take time off of work, and caused financial strain. The participants also reported that their sex lives sagged when their partner was in a manic or a depressive phase; three-quarters of the women who were interviewed and 53% of the men complained of infrequent sex when their spouses were depressed.

Another study of bipolar caregivers found that 86% of the participants characterized the stress they experienced as a result of their partners illness as “major.” And 9 out of 10 said they found it difficult to keep the relationship going.

Next Page: Building a team for support Building a team for support
Many people enter into relationships with a bipolar person unwittingly, thinking it will be smooth sailing, says Adele Viguera, MD, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic who works with bipolar couples seeking to start a family. “Maybe they meet the person when the person is hypomanic, not realizing that mood can change,” she says.

Tim, 37, tried for three years to sustain a relationship with a woman eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “She would cycle between extreme happiness and depression,” he says, recalling her paranoia, impulsiveness, and self-destructive insecurity. “She broke up with me and started dating other people, and then when I dated other people she tried to win me back.” Like many people with bipolar disorder, Tim’s girlfriend also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and got deep into debt—with his credit card. Tim eventually broke down emotionally himself, ended the affair, and tried to forget the experience. “Half of me moved on, but half of me will always love her,” he says.

Divorce and separation are common in relationships involving bipolar disorder, but according to Dr. Viguera, such relationships don’t have to be destructive and separation is hardly inevitable. Both parties have to participate in its success, however. “Taking care of bipolar disorder is a team effort, involving the two people and a psychiatrist or other mental health professional,” she says. While she would never speak to a spouse without her patients consent, such open communication empowers both parties to make treatment decisions that lead to a healthier relationship.

Mental health professionals arent the only ones who can lend a hand. The stigma of mental illness can make couples hesitant to look elsewhere for help, but Karp emphasizes that extended family members and trusted friends can all provide invaluable support. “Spread it around a little bit,” he says. “People need support systems. By keeping the illness a secret, people place an additional burden on themselves.” Karp also recommends that anyone who cares for someone struggling with bipolar person find a support group in their area.

Next Page: Bipolar marriages can work Bipolar marriages can work
Fred and Kristin Finn, of Grand Rapids, Mich., describe their marriage as loving and supportive, despite that fact that Kristin was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. Their teenage daughter has also been diagnosed with the disorder.

The pillars of their success, both say, are open communication (Fred is free to reign in Kristin’s clothes spending when he thinks she is manic) and predictable schedules. Kristin says carving time out for her own sleep is crucial, as is making time for each other. “We make sure that every Friday night we set aside time for each other,” she says. “Every single Friday night he comes home from work, we turn on some music, we sit, and we talk. My family and friends know—nobody calls us during that time period. Nothing can keep us away from our Friday night, because its our time to connect.”

For his part, Fred says he would encourage anyone involved with a bipolar patient to educate themselves as much as they can about the disorder. You may not always like what you learn, he warns, but keeping surprises to a minimum makes your relationship easier to navigate. For example, he says, he is worried about the long-term effects of medication on Kristin’s health. And while both his daughter and his wife comply with medication and therapy, neither is symptom-free.

“No matter what youre doing, there will be symptoms,” Fred says. “Once I learned about how the symptoms manifest themselves, once I started reading that and becoming more familiar with that, it gave me a better understanding of how to cope with these things. Getting angry because a person has bipolar disorder wont help anything. Bipolar is treatable, medications and counseling help a great deal, but theres still things about bipolar disorder that I dont think Ill ever figure out.”

This is a perfectly healthy stance to take, according to Karp. He urges people with bipolar partners to remember what he calls the “four Cs”: I can’t Control it; I didnt Cause it; I can’t Cure it. All I can do is Cope with it.

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