Bipolar disorder is a mental illness causing changes in mood that move between depression and mania (an elevated mood) or hypomania (a less severe, but still very challenging form of mania).
The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar disorder as: “ a chronic or episodic (which means occurring occasionally and at irregular intervals) mental disorder. It can cause unusual, often extreme and fluctuating changes in mood, energy, activity, and concentration or focus.”
There are four types of bipolar disorder and a wide range of symptoms, so each person’s experience can vary.
I’ve been living with bipolar disorder since I was a pre-teen, but only received an accurate diagnosis in my twenties. I’ve learned to manage my disorder over time and am more stable now than I ever have been.
While it’s a very difficult disorder to live with, living well with bipolar disorder is possible. Let’s take a look at 15 tips to help you cope.
1. Learn About Bipolar
Educating yourself about your disorder helps you to understand what you’re going through. It can help you to be more self-aware and can even help you to feel less alone.
If you’re new to being diagnosed with bipolar, learning about your disorder is crucial. There are lots of great articles, blogs, stories from personal experience, and videos online.
This is a great video to watch to learn the basics.
2. Advocate for Treatment
Getting professional treatment is key to living well with bipolar disorder. Treatment might involve therapy, medication, and regular monitoring by a mental health team.
Unfortunately, getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be a struggle so it’s important you advocate for yourself. You can do this by being educated on your disorder, being firm and persistent, and asking openly for what you need.
It’s always a good idea to keep detailed notes of appointments, and you can even take someone with you for moral support. Remember that treatment is about you and your needs, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
3. Keep Up With Treatment
Once you have access to ongoing treatment, it’s crucial that you keep up with it and are proactive with engaging in your treatment. This gives you the best chance of your treatment being successful.
Attend all your appointments and take your medication, even when you feel good. Be open to what you learn during therapy and use those skills in your daily life to help you manage your symptoms.
4. Be Self Aware
A huge part of learning to live well with bipolar disorder is learning to be aware of your symptoms and how your disorder affects you. Over time, you’ll learn your triggers and signs that your mood is changing, so you can implement coping strategies before things escalate.
Keeping track of your moods can be useful to help you gain this self-awareness, especially if you’ve just been diagnosed. Be patient with yourself as it’s an ongoing balancing act to achieve a good level of self-awareness and be consistent with acting on this awareness.
5. Find Purpose
Having purpose in your life is essential to feel motivated, hopeful, and driven to keep going, especially when you live with a mental illness like bipolar disorder.
Purpose can be anything that drives you or that you feel passionately about. It might be work, studies, a hobby, your family, a goal you’re working towards, or even your pets.
6. Move Your Body
Exercise isn’t just great for your physical health, it’s also wonderful for your mental health. Regular exercise can help to improve your sleep, reduce stress, improve your mood, and give you something positive to focus on during difficult times.
In fact, research shows that during exercise feel-good hormones are released which can boost your mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and even help people with long-term mental illnesses to manage their symptoms.
Regular exercise is a big part of my routine and is one of the main ways I keep my mood stable. There are so many types of exercise that you can try so you can find something that you actually enjoy.
7. Get Outdoors
Getting outdoors regularly can help to clear your mind and boost your mood. When you’re having a bad day, sometimes the change of scenery (as cliche as that can sound), can help you to see things more clearly and provide a sense of calm.
The American Psychological Association states that getting out in nature has a wide range of mental health benefits including: “improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”
Being out in nature is my happy place. It’s never failed to bring me some joy, even in the darkest of times.
8. Have a Regular Sleep Schedule
Sleep is crucial for all of us: it helps to keep us mentally and physically healthy. When you live with bipolar disorder sleep is even more important as lack of sleep can be a significant trigger for changes in mood.
Dr. Jennifer Payne, M.D.explains that lack of sleep can trigger manic episodes, while regular sleep can help to keep your mood stable.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can be really helpful. For example, going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day and night, as well as making time to wind down before bed. These positive habits are called sleep hygiene and you can check out our guide to read more helpful sleep tips.
9. Be Conscious of What You Eat and Drink
What we eat and drink is the fuel we put into our bodies, so it’s important we think carefully about what we consume. Eating a balanced diet can help you to feel better mentally and physically.
It’s important to avoid drugs and be cautious about alcohol with bipolar disorder, as these substances can markedly affect your mood. You should also be careful with caffeine, because it can disturb your sleep pattern and for some people, may be a trigger for mania or hypomania.
This isn’t to say you can’t have treats now and then: that’s not realistic and life is hard enough without treating yourself. It’s all about balance and self-awareness of what affects your symptoms.
10. Surround Yourself With Support
Living with bipolar is tough (to say the least), and it can often feel isolating. That’s why it’s so important that you surround yourself with supportive people who build you up and are there for you.
Communicate with your friends and family and ensure you reach out to them when you need help. You could also connect with others with bipolar disorder online or join support groups, as this can help you feel less alone.
11. Do Things You Enjoy
This one sounds obvious, but when you’re so busy trying to manage your symptoms or are struggling with changes in your mood, it’s common to stop making time for things you enjoy.
Try to set aside some time each day or each week to do something that brings you joy. That might be a hobby or it may simply be making time to read a good book, take a relaxing bath, or listen to a podcast.
12.. Control Stress
Stress can be a big trigger for those of us with bipolar disorder, so it’s important to do all you can to try to control your stress. You can do this by setting clear boundaries with others; dealing with problems head-on; taking regular breaks to rest; asking for help when you need it, and finding ways to relax (such as mindfulness). Check our article on how to live a stress-free life for more tips.
13. Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easy to be harsh with yourself when you’re bipolar. You might feel like a burden or blame yourself for actions taken when you were depressed or manic. If you’re depressed, you might feel worthless, hopeless, or lost.
It can be tough to deal with these negative feelings but the key is to be kind to yourself. Understand that you’re doing your best and that you are not a burden. You’re worthy of love, help, and happiness.
Try to let go of past mistakes and forgive yourself. If I’m struggling with this, I like to think of it as treating myself as I would treat a loved one.
14. Celebrate Your Achievements
A great way to build yourself up is by celebrating all of your achievements. I’m not just referring to more ‘obvious’ achievements such as progression at work or with your studies. I mean all of your daily achievements, even those things we might usually overlook.
For example, praise yourself for sticking to your routine, for advocating for yourself, or for reaching out for help when you needed it. Celebrate doing some exercise, eating three meals today, or keeping yourself safe.
I find this makes me feel much more encouraged and reminds me that I’m doing well because I’m living with a disorder that’s trying to bring me down and instead, I keep going!
15. Plan For a Crisis
Even when you’re living well with your disorder, there are still going to be ups and downs (that’s the nature of the disorder). So, it’s important you are prepared for a crisis to ensure you keep yourself safe.
Preparing for a crisis will look different for everyone. You might have a crisis plan you made with a mental health professional. You could talk to loved ones and come up with a plan that works for you, for example having phone numbers on hand so you know who to call and planning actions to take to ground yourself.
Take your time to figure out what will work best for you. Remember that even though it’s uncomfortable to think about, being prepared helps to keep you safe and can prevent a crisis from escalating.
You Can Live Well With Bipolar Disorder
Even though it’s hard work and it takes time, it is possible to live a happy, full life with bipolar disorder. There is hope! Don’t give up, keep pushing forward and figure out what works for you.
National Institute of Mental Health, (2018), “Bipolar Disorder”.
Kirsten Weir, (2011), “The exercise effect”. American Psychological Association.
Kirsten Weir, (2020), “Nurtured by nature”. American Psychological Association.
Jennifer Payne, M.D., (2022), “Bipolar Relationships: What to Expect”. Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University.