Tips for Managing Bipolar
It is estimated that 3 million people in Australia experience mild to moderate mental health issues and around 700,000 people have severe and persistent mental health illnesses, demonstrating complex needs and thus requiring support due to their disability.
Bipolar can be a debilitating condition to navigate. Besides medical treatments, there are strategies that you can incorporate in your day-to-day life such as creating and maintaining a healthy routine, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, eliminating stress triggers and avoiding drugs and alcohol to help you manage the disorder.
If you have bipolar disorder or any kind of mental illness the first thing to do is to consult a medical doctor. They can work with you to determine the best medication, therapies and advice that works for you and prevent your illness from progressing further. Don’t try to navigate this alone, there are multiple support systems and medical professionals who can help you through your illness so that you can continue to live a good quality of life.
What are the Symptoms of Bipolar?
Bipolar is a mental health condition that involves significant changes in your mood, more specifically you may experience periods of highs called mania or hypomania and periods of depression. The mood changes can also become mixed together meaning you could feel elated and depressed at the same time. There is a broad spectrum of symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, symptoms usually emerge during early adulthood and every individual with this condition will experience it slightly differently.
Common signs of mania include:
- Feeling overly happy or high for extended periods of time
- Feeling jumpy or wired
- Experiencing reduction in sleep
- Experiencing racing thoughts and fast, jumbled speech
- Becoming easily distracted
- Feelings of grandiosity or self-importance
- Feelings of invincibility
- Engaging in risky behaviours such as gambling, spending large amounts of money or extreme sports
- Experiencing a low appetite
Common signs of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness for long periods of time
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Experiencing a significant change in appetite
- Feelings of severe fatigue or lack of energy
- Finding everyday activities more difficult
- Significant changes in sleeping patterns
- Experiencing problems with memory, concentration and decision making
- Having suicidal thoughts or thinking about death
If you think you may have bipolar disorder or any mental health condition, please consult with your doctor as soon as possible. Bipolar is commonly misdiagnosed as depression as a lot of people with this condition don’t seek help until they are feeling depressed. The feeling of mania is not always considered as something wrong and can feel good.
How do you calm a bipolar mind?
Stress is a major trigger of manic and depressive episodes which can be exhausting when it’s unmanaged. The best way to prevent these mood swings is to get professional treatment for bipolar disorder. However, it is possible to reduce the frequency and intensity of your episodes through gaining awareness of situations and events that can be triggers for you.
The most common situations that can trigger bipolar episodes include:
- Lack of sleep
- Stress from major life events
- Erratic schedules
- Caffeine and alcohol
- Certain types of medication
- Seasonal changes
- Stopping bipolar medication
- Substance abuse
- Thyroid problems
What are Coping Skills for Bipolar Disorder?
Besides professional medical help, there are coping strategies that you can implement in your everyday life to keep your symptoms at bay and keep your body and mind healthy:
Stick to a routine
Find a good routine that works for you and do your best to stick to it. A lot of people with bipolar find if they stick to a schedule and their daily routine it can help them to control their mood.
Even though there is no specific diet for people with bipolar disorder, a healthy diet full of a variety of good nutrients can help your mood and if your physical health is high then this also has a knock on effect on your mental health. Fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains fill a good diet and cut down on the fat, salt and sugar which can make us feel lethargic.
Especially in the afternoons as it can keep you up at night and affect your mood. Cut down on tea, coffee, soda and chocolate. If these are something that you consume regularly, don’t cut them out completely all at once as this can cause withdrawals in the form of headaches and other symptoms. You can do it slowly over a period of time if you find it’s helpful for you.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
These substances can alter the effectiveness of your medications. On top of that they can trigger manic or depressive episodes, worsen your bipolar disorder and make it harder to treat.
Bipolar is very taxing on our health and many people with bipolar turn to drugs and alcohol to self medicate or relieve the troubles caused by their condition. Unfortunately, this can turn into a substance abuse problem and further enhance the symptoms and progression of bipolar disorder.
If you think you may have a problem with substance abuse, please seek help! Contact your doctor or a therapist and reach out to support groups.
Make time for exercise regularly, whether it’s going for a walk or full on cardio. Exercise is good for us all to get those endorphins flowing to improve our mood. It also encourages good sleeping habits which is integral for our mental health.
Limit stress triggers
Stress can trigger manic or depressive episodes. Wherever possible, limit any kind of stress in your life and don’t take on too many commitments. This could mean working less hours or taking one less subject for a semester.
Get enough sleep
This tip is important for most of us, but it’s especially important for those with bipolar disorder. The right amount of sleep promotes mental wellness and sometimes being sleep deprived can trigger a manic episode.
Pay attention to sleep patterns
Your sleep patterns can also indicate a flare up of your symptoms. If you find yourself not sleeping well for a few nights in a row, you may be heading into a manic episode and if you start sleeping a lot more than is normal for you, this could be a sign of depression. Keeping track of your sleeping patterns along with other symptoms can help you recognise when things change.
Tips for good sleeping habits:
- Set yourself a sleeping routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Give yourself time to relax before bed, listen to music, take a bath or read a book.
- Give yourself at least an hour of screen free time (TV or phone) before bed as your devices stimulate you and are more likely to keep you awake.
- Turn your bedroom into a calming space, use good lighting and colours, monitor the temperature and invest in quality bedding to aid quality sleep.
- If you notice your sleeping patterns significantly start to change, consult with your doctor or therapist.
Build a good support system
Surround yourself with good friends and family members who can monitor your mood from an outsider’s perspective. They can also act as your support network for the harder times.
Join a support group
Support groups can be a great way to connect with others. Everyone’s experience will be unique but it’s important to receive assurance that you are not alone. There is a lot of power in sharing your story and hearing others perspectives. You can also learn how others are managing the disorder and share tips that might work for you.
Does Bipolar Worsen with Age?
Long term studies show that bipolar is more common in early adulthood and less common in older age. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar but it is left untreated, you may find your symptoms become stronger over time with more severe or more frequent episodes. However, the good news is as we get older generally our mood symptoms decline and balance out and bipolar episodes may not continue to be as extreme.
This doesn’t mean that you can leave your bipolar untreated as this can lead to other complications and cause problems in other areas of your life. It’s common for people with bipolar to believe they are cured and discontinue medications but this can also have a big impact on your mental health and symptoms can return fast and strong.
Does bipolar disorder qualify for disability benefits?
If you suffer from a long term disability resulting from a mental health condition, also known as a psychosocial disability or PSD, it is covered under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and you may be eligible for funding to benefit from our support services.
Psychosocial disabilities can be crippling if not addressed properly. At Maple Community Services, we can walk you through the assessment process to see if you qualify for NDIS Bipolar Disorder benefits. If you or your loved one meets the criteria, we can facilitate the process and have the full capacity to provide whatever support services you may need.
To become an NDIS client, you need to provide evidence of your mental health condition, but a specific diagnosis is not required. NDIS support is contingent on how the condition impacts you and your daily activities, rather than the diagnosis itself, and that’s where our Bipolar Disorder Specialists can help you.