Forget the List - Focus On One Change at a Time

Lynne Taetzsch Health Guide
  • It can be overwhelming when you’re first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and realize that your whole lifestyle needs an overhaul. You sleep at odd hours, you don’t eat right, you’re not getting enough exercise, you drink too much, etc., etc., etc. Just the thought of everything you need to change can make you more depressed than you already are.

    For some people, changing everything that’s wrong at once might work. Perhaps their habits were so bad and the symptoms (or treatment) of a bipolar manic episode so scary, they were able to shock themselves into a major change of lifestyle. But for most of us, it works better to make changes gradually if we want them to stick. And that’s the key, to be consistent in our good behavior.
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    A bipolar friend said that after she was diagnosed, she realized she could not keep staying up until 2 a.m. So she started by going to bed a half hour earlier, and after she was used to that, another half hour earlier, and so on. At this point she goes to bed at 10 pm every night and is able to fall asleep within a half hour. With young children at home, she has to get up early and cannot afford to go to bed at 2 a.m.

    I had an ambitious plan myself for lifestyle improvement at one time. Every day I was going to meditate, do yoga for an hour, and take a walk. At the same time, I wanted to be sure I spent my mornings painting, since I’m a morning person and that’s when I’m most creative. I also had books to read, a journal to keep, and so on and so on.

    The only thing that plan did for me was to make me feel like a failure for not following it, and I soon fell into a depression. At that point, all I did was sleep and hang around the house. Finally, I realized that all those “shoulds” were just making me more crazy. So I picked one thing (besides the painting, which is numero uno for me) and decided that taking walks was what I needed the most in order to maintain a stable mood.

    By letting myself off the hook for the whole list, and concentrating instead on one thing, walking, I was finally able to accomplish a change. I stopped punishing myself for not doing yoga and meditation. That was a couple years ago.

    Recently a friend invited me to go to yoga with her at the local Y. I went once and enjoyed it, but I made no commitment to go again. This week I went twice, and it felt great. Maybe I’m starting a new good habit. No pressure. We’ll see.

Published On: November 22, 2006