9 Bipolar Recovery Skills We All Need to Knowby John McManamy Patient Expert
Living a meaningful life with bipolar disorder requires tapping into a wide range of practices and strategies. Medication is but one small element in the total recovery equation. For long-term health, you will need to learn a set of skills and apply certain tools to increase your resilience. Many of these will be unique to you. But at least eight are universal. Let us begin …
Said Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” All the accumulated wisdom on the planet means nothing without self-knowledge. Knowing your triggers and weaknesses can be especially important to avert a relapse. Being aware of your strengths can help you move forward with confidence.
Take time out to pause and reflect. This is the first step to taking charge of our illness, and our lives.
Mindfulness is the practice of the mind watching the mind. In essence, we are dispassionately observing our thoughts and emotions and energy levels as they ebb and flow. If we catch a shift in any of them at an early stage, we may be able to head off trouble at the pass. Staying in the now provides a calm within the storm.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as stopping to smell the roses.
The brain in crisis or overload is setting us up for a mood episode. Using mindfulness, we can often avoid stress before it eventuates, or manage the stress we can’t avoid. This is where a whole range of personal coping skills comes into play - from learning to substitute erroneous thoughts with rational ones to developing better interpersonal skills, to finding ways to gain control over your life to learning how to relax.
Implement some practical coping skills into your day.
Stick to a routine
Routine is important for all creatures, but it is especially important if you live with bipolar disorder. Sticking to a regular, consistent schedule helps stabilize your moods. It can bring order to a manic phase and can push you to do something even when you are too depressed to do so.
Create a daily schedule and try to adhere to it every day, no matter whether you are up or down.
Get regular sleep
Getting regular sleep is a critical factor for good health in general. It’s especially important for persons with bipolar disorder because it helps to stabilize mood fluctuations. Insomnia and sleep disturbances increase your risk for hypomania and mania.
Practice good sleep hygiene like going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at a consistent hour to ensure that you get adequate rest.
Eat for your mood
There is no one right diet, but there are millions of wrong ones. The excessive sugars and saturated fats in our food set us up for everything from sharp mood and energy swings, jitters, and mental sluggishness to low self-esteem and other medical complications.
Avoid fad diets that set you up to fail. Follow general guidance for eating healthy, consuming plenty of vegetables, fruits, and lean meats.
Numerous studies, including one published in the Journal of Neuroscience, have linked exercise to elevated mood. This includes aerobics, walking, and yoga. The good news is that you need not run a marathon to benefit from the antidepressant effects. Gardening or even household work is enough to get your heart rate up and boost your mood.
Simple advice: Make your exercise fun. Find something you like to do (such as walking) and fit it in to your daily routine. Even better, pursue activities you enjoy doing with others (such as dance lessons).
Isolation and withdrawal increase a person’s risk for depression and bipolar. Being part of something can help mitigate symptoms. This includes being connected with who you are, with other people, and with something greater than yourself (be it God, your own intuition, or a sense of higher purpose). A 2017 study found that reaching out and generosity of spirit make us happier.
Get involved with a peer group or find ways to better connect with others around you.
Remember your strength
You are a lot tougher than you think. Take credit for the strength and courage you have already displayed in the teeth of one of the worst illnesses on earth. Even the best of us enter states of hopelessness. And yet in our worst states, we still have an element of control, and that is cause for hope.
Make a list of the things you have overcome, times you have felt strong.