by Tricia Chilcott
Bipolar disorder is a serious psychiatric disease. I know because I live with it. Every day. I know from firsthand experience how much it sucks. I understand the major negative impact it can have on all areas of your life, including things like personal relationships, job performance, and your finances. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, or are having medication management problems, the debilitating effects can throw you into a deep depression which you feel like you’ll never get out of. I’ve been there myself, and I can assure you, the right combination of meds is out there, don’t despair!
But besides medications, what else can you do to effectively manage your disorder? There are a multitude of tools that you can add to your arsenal to help combat this illness. These are things that have been proven to help by numerous research studies. One of those tools you can use is seeing a therapist regularly, even if you don’t think you need one. A therapist can help you identify what you triggers are, and teach you effective, and healthy coping skills to deal with those events.
Another thing that can help is practicing good sleep hygiene. I don’t think I can emphasize this one enough. Just a personal example, but I have a 3 day window for poor sleep habits before they trigger an episode in me. I know if I got more than 3 days without sleep, I’ll start cycling into a manic episode, and I contact my doctor. On the flip side, if I go a week or more being unable to get out of bed and sleeping 18 hours a day, it’s time to call my doctor as well. Healthy sleep habits is one of the most effective tools a person can use in stabilizing their disorder. This means going to bed at a reasonable hour, and getting up in the morning at the same time every day. I know some of you are shaking your head at this because insomnia can seem impossible to overcome without medications, but just trying these things can’t hurt,, and I get it where you’re coming from. I take a sleeping pill to get me to sleep every night. But doing what you can to try and establish healthy sleeping habits can potentially have positive effects. This includes things like turning off the TV and computer at least an hour before bed, not drinking caffeine after 6 PM, and not exercising right before bed. Also, keep your bedroom as tranquil as possible and keep electronics out of it. Use your bedroom for sleeping only.
Of course, exercising regularly can help keep your disorder in check, there are numerous studies that have empirically proven the benefits of exercise in regards to mental illnesses such as major depression and bipolar disorder. In addition to keeping your body healthy, it is recommended that people with bipolar disorder abstain from drinking alcohol, as this tends to exacerbate their symptoms. As much as I hate getting out, I force myself to zumba twice a week, and although I dread going every time, I leave feeling reinvigorated and glad I went. So even if you don’t feel like getting up and moving around, do it anyway! I promise it’ll make you feel better.
One thing that has proven helpful to many bipolar patients is keeping a mood journal. This is a very useful tool that you use to track your mood everyday, and to also add in what activities you did that day that might have impacted your mood. You can also add how much sleep you got the night before, if you napped or not during the day, if you worked out, and how your eating habits were. There are several apps that you can download to help you keep track of these, or you can find an example online and print it off. This is also a very helpful thing to show your doctor when you meet with them.
The last suggestion I have is for you to adopt a routine and stick to it. Have a list of things you need to accomplish each day, and work towards accomplishing them. Not only does this give you a sense of purpose, but it also helps you build your self esteem as you are able to cross off activities you’ve accomplished each day. These don’t have to be huge projects your taking on, they can be as simple as taking a short walk outside, watering your garden, doing the dishes, getting one load of laundry done, or even showering and getting dressed for the day.
These might seem like mundane activities, and unlikely to help you manage your disorder better to boot. I can assure you that by making these small changes to your life, you will feel more in control of your disorder, and happier and healthier overall. I know this for a fact because many of the things I’ve touched on are things I do myself to manage my disorder. It’s true I’m on an effective drug cocktail, but medications can only take you so far. At some point, you have to start putting more effort in as well. I promise if you do, you’ll be amazed at the benefits you will reap from it. I hope you’ve found this an informative read, good luck in managing your disorder, and God bless!
Image Credit: Giulia Bartra