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Living with bipolar disorder - managing the highs and lows

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition, characterised by intense mood swings that range from excessive ‘highs’ (mania) to extreme ‘lows’ (depression). It is sometimes referred to as ‘manic depression’ due to these alternating episodes of mania and depression.

This complex condition can leave you feeling as though you’re not fully in control of your emotions, and some of the symptoms can be extremely distressing. Here, we will provide tips on how you can manage the highs and lows you experience.

Self-help tips for coping with bipolar disorder

Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder

If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, learn as much about the condition and its symptoms as possible. This will help you to identify highs and lows, understand why you feel the way you do, and spot warning signs for your episodes.

You can learn more on our dedicated condition page, or by visiting Bipolar UK, the national charity for bipolar disorder.

Get involved in your treatment

It’s important to engage with any treatment you’re receiving. Attend all appointments and take any medication as advised. Make the effort to build a trusting relationship with the medical professional you are working with, and talk about what you want to achieve. This can help you to feel more in control of your condition, and learn how to manage it more effectively.

It can also help if you involve your family within your treatment. Take them along to your appointments if you can, and talk to them about your sessions and progress. This will help your loved ones to understand what you’re going through so they can support you throughout your journey.

Monitor your mood

If you struggle with bipolar disorder, it would be useful for you to monitor your moods over time. Being aware of any changes can help you to spot triggers for your highs and lows. For example, you may notice that having too little or too much sleep can cause an episode of mania or depression. By monitoring this, you can try and avoid these triggers; in this example, you could make an effort to maintain a consistent sleep routine.

By keeping an eye on your moods and how you’re feeling from day-to-day, you’ll also be able to recognise your warning signs. Warning signs of mania may include an inability to concentrate, less need for sleep and having more energy, whereas warning signs for depression may include wanting to withdraw from other people and losing interest in activities you usually enjoy. By being able to spot these warning signs, you can take steps to minimise the impact of the impending high or low.

There are lots of useful methods that you can use to track your mood. One of the most practical methods is to keep a mood diary. You can download one for free from Bipolar UK, which can be used alongside their mood scale.

Have a coping ‘toolkit’

It’s important to have a coping ‘toolkit’ to use when you spot the warning signs of a manic or depressive episode. This toolkit should consist of coping skills and activities that you can do to feel supported and help stabilise your mood.

Each individual will have different coping strategies and activities, based on unique preferences. Some examples of the tools and activities to have in your toolkit include:

  • Speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling
  • Go to bed early and try to get a full 8 hours of sleep
  • Make an appointment to see your doctor or therapist
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Have a hot bath
  • Go for a walk to get some exercise and fresh air

Stick to a routine

If you’re experiencing mania, having a routine can help you to feel calmer and more ‘grounded’. If you’re in a depressive episode, it can give you a purpose and make you feel more positive. Your routine could consist of:

  • Set times for meals
  • Time put aside to do something relaxing that you enjoy
  • Taking your medication at the same time every day
  • A specific day where you try to socialise with friends or family

Manage your stress levels

Stress can be a trigger for the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. That’s why it’s important to take steps to avoid getting too stressed and look after yourself if you do.

Strategies for limiting your stress levels may include:

  • Not taking on too much, or making too many commitments
  • Exploring whether you could cut back on work hours, or study on a part-time basis, if possible
  • Taking a break – make sure you take some time out for yourself to relax

Look after yourself physically

Looking after yourself physically can help you to feel better psychologically. Steps include:

  • Try to get enough sleep – getting a consistent amount of good quality sleep can prevent rapid changes in your mood, and can help manic or depressive episodes to subside quicker than they usually would
  • Eat healthily - eating a healthy and balanced diet can help you to feel well, think clearly and stabilise your mood. Consistently preparing and eating nutritious meals can also form part of your daily routine, which again, helps to bring purpose to your life and prevent dramatic changes in your mood. Also avoid taking drugs, and cut back on your alcohol and caffeine intake as these can exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder
  • Exercise regularly – exercise is known to release ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain which can boost your mood when you’re feeling low. It can also burn off any excess energy during a manic episode. Try and get some exercise each day, even if it’s a short walk

Build a support network

It’s so important that you don’t isolate yourself. Try and maintain close contact with family, friends and other people you trust. These people can then provide you with the opportunity to talk, spot when you’re going through a difficult time, and support you as and when you need it.

It’s also a good idea to meet new people and try new activities. For example, you could try joining some form of club or society to broaden your horizons, and give you purpose and routine.

Making connections with other people who share your experiences and challenges can also be helpful. Try reaching out to other people who have bipolar disorder via online communities such as Bipolar UK’s eCommunity, or by joining your nearest support group. These forums and groups can be a great chance for you to share your individual experiences, and receive guidance on ways to manage your condition and look after yourself.

Plan ahead for an emergency

During extreme manic or depressive episodes, you may get to the stage where your safety and wellbeing are at risk, and you feel out of control. It’s useful to plan ahead for times like these, and have everything in place to get the support you need as quickly as possible.

Make a list of your emergency contacts, whether these are close family members or your doctor. Also, compile a list of any medications you’re taking, including the dose, and give information on who can make decisions on your behalf if necessary.

By having this plan in place, it can mean swift access to effective support when you need it most.

Get support today

While these tips can help you to cope with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, professional support is needed to make sure that your condition is being managed effectively.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment method for bipolar disorder, and is a technique that we use at Priory. The purpose of CBT is to help you to tackle your problems by breaking them down into smaller parts and changing the way you think, behave and respond to them. This means that your thought processes and state of mind are constantly being improved and you are equipped with lifelong skills, enabling you to continue enhancing your levels of wellbeing.

For more information on the treatment that Priory can provide for bipolar disorder, contact us today.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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