Living better with bipolar
Bipolar disorder can be treated with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, but sticking with treatment can be a challenge.
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder tends to get worse if you don’t get the proper care, says Carrie Bearden, PhD, an associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, and psychology at UCLA. “The episodes will only get more frequent and severe the longer their illness is untreated.”
The good news is that there are many things you can do that help. Here are 10 tips for keeping bipolar symptoms under control.
Don’t skip meds
“[Medications] can help you live a much more normal life if you choose to take them,” says Cara Hoepner, a nurse practitioner who also has bipolar disorder. But it isn’t necessarily easy. Lithium is a commonly used drug, but it requires monitoring with blood tests to make sure the dose is correct, as higher levels can be toxic. And skipping doses of lithium or any drug due to side effects or other reasons can precipitate a relapse. There are ways to deal with side effects; some are even transient, lasting for only a week or two, says Hoepner.
Get the right amount of sleep
People with bipolar disorder often have problems sleeping. Hoepner says about 25% of them sleep too much at night or take long naps, and about one-third have insomnia even when they aren’t having an episode.
Irregular sleep patterns can precipitate a manic or depressive episode.
Set an alarm and get up at the same time every day, Hoepner says. Even if you don’t have to get up for work, try to schedule regular morning activities such as walking or exercising with a friend (because exercise is important too).
Use therapy too
“Therapy is really, really important,” Bearden says. Some patients, if their mood is stabilized, see a psychiatrist only every month or two. But Bearden recommends more regular therapy, typically cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help people get on a good schedule and understand and interpret events and thoughts.
She also recommends interpersonal therapy, which can be helpful in maintaining stable friendships, relationships, and family interaction—often a problem with people who are bipolar.
Connect with others
Try to strike a balance in your social life. Overstimulation can be stressful and trigger problems, but so can isolation.
“People who are bipolar tend to have trouble maintaining relationships; they wear friendships out,” Hoepner says.
Aim for things that make you feel good: a hobby or sport, or volunteer for a cause that’s important to you. “You’re getting your mind off of yourself and focusing it on something else, which can be really therapeutic,” Hoepner explains.