Last year, a friend of mine — and one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever known — was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Though Beth* and her doctor came up with a treatment plan, it took some time for her body to adjust and the medication to fully kick in. She told me some days felt impossible, others totally exhausting. Since I’ve had my own battles with depression, I knew exactly how hopeless she felt and was eager to help.
I did some research about simple, holistic ways to help manage her symptoms, then helped her implement them. Although it wasn’t overnight, I soon started to see little pieces of my dear friend starting to come back. She still has her tough days, but making just a few minor adjustments to her daily routine ultimately made a significant impact on reducing her symptoms. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder for years, we hope that you’ll find the same success she did.
Setting up a consistent routine to follow each day is one of the best ways to combat bipolar episodes. The human brain blossoms with routine, and people with mental illnesses will benefit even more. When planning a routine to deal with bipolar disorder, it is important that you include all the critical aspects from the beginning. Too much of a disruption in your routine later on can trigger episodes. Here are a few things you should be sure to include in your daily routine.
Exercise is an important thing to include in any person’s daily schedule. For people with bipolar disorder, exercise can help battle depression while maintaining physical fitness. However, it is important that you do not exercise in excess or exercise when you feel you may be verging on a manic episode. Studies have tentatively shown that exercise can actually exacerbate the symptoms associated with mania while benefitting the symptoms of depression.
Some good options to avoid triggering or exacerbating a manic episode might be low-impact, relaxing forms of exercise such as yoga, walking, tai chi, or swimming.
Beth and I decided to join forces and became workout buddies. We go to the gym for yoga class, then take a relaxing dip in the pool. On days she feels like she might be triggered, we opt instead for a trip to the park where we can take a relaxing stroll or simply find a free bench and chat. I think it helps both of us to have a constant support system, and while we don’t let each other skip on days we simply feel “too tired,” we also don’t shame each other on days we simply aren’t mentally up for it.
Mealtimes and Meal Prep
Eating well is another good way to help balance bipolar disorder. Unhealthy diets have negative effects on both physical and mental health, meaning people struggling with mental illness are more greatly affected. Plan a day when you can meal plan and meal prep each week — Beth and I like to shop together Sunday mornings and she preps with her husband that evening — focusing on the feel-good nutrients and any deficiencies you may have.
For mealtimes, it can be very beneficial to eat at the same time every day for each meal. If your brain knows exactly what to expect and when to expect it, you become less at-risk for episodes.
Sleep is a very common problem among people with bipolar. Most often, they struggle with insomnia, but some will also experience excessive sleeping. To combat this, setting up a nightly routine can train your brain to sleep at the right time and wake up at the right time. Regulating sleep patterns is very important in bipolar disorder. A sudden change in bedtime or hours slept can also trigger an episode, making it critical that you stick to your routine.
This was a tricky one for me to help Beth with, but since her husband is a night owl we knew we needed a system. We came up with our own routines (I enjoy knitting before bed, Beth prefers to read), then committed to both a wind-down time and a bedtime. Each night at 8:30, one of us texts the other to say goodnight, then we each turn our phones on airplane mode and move straight into our nightly routines. Sometimes, if we have a particularly pressing issue (or several) on our mind, we share with each other before saying goodnight. It’s a cathartic way to get our worries out in the open, but still set them aside for the evening.
If your job is extremely stressful or anxiety-inducing, it can make managing your bipolar disorder even more difficult. When your job is negatively affecting your mental and physical health, it’s time to find a better option. Think about what you love doing and then consider what career opportunities might be available based on your preferences. For example, if you love art, you might look for jobs at local museums or art supply stores or set up an Etsy shop and sell your creations. If you love animals, you might apply for a position at a local pet groomer or veterinarian or become a dog walker or pet sitter. If you love reading and writing, you might see if your local library is hiring or look for freelancing opportunities through a site like Upwork. It may take some time to find the right position, but the boost you’ll get for trading in a stressful job for one that is rewarding will be well worth the effort.
Beth is fortunate in that she has always loved her job, but she did find that walking dogs a couple nights a week gave her an even greater sense of purpose. (Besides, who wouldn’t want to hang out and play with a happy, judgment-free golden retriever and get paid for it?)
Time for Relaxation
One of the main contributors to bipolar episodes is stress. Minimizing and reducing stress are a necessary part of daily routines for people with bipolar. Therefore, scheduling time for relaxation is anything but laziness. Planning time to read a book, meditate, colour, craft, or any number of relaxing hobbies can make the difference in your goal to stabilize your mood.
Beth and I have committed to allowing ourselves at least one hour of “me” time once we’re home from work or the gym. Sometimes it’ll be a nice relaxing bath, other times it’s simply sitting outside and listening to music. Having someone actually encourage me to put my feet up helps take away that guilty feeling I sometimes get while trying to relax, and it’s a soothing way to start my evening.
Establishing a daily routine that includes the key aspects of managing life with bipolar can be a wonderful way for you to help yourself. You may even consider sitting down with your doctor or counsellor and compiling the best daily routine to fit your life and your needs.
I’ve recently joined forces with It Gets Brighter, a campaign that hopes to fight the misconceptions and stigma of mental illness and encourage those fighting the battle to speak openly about it. Although Beth is not yet ready to tell the world about her journey, she was eager to share what helped her feel more like herself again. It took some time to find the light, but with patience and support it got brighter. Each day she sticks to her routine, it gets brighter. Each day she opens up and shares a piece of her battle with me or her husband, it gets brighter. And we truly believe that for you, too, it will get brighter.
Jennifer Scott has been experiencing anxiety and depression since she was a teen. She shares her journey toward improved mental health on her website, SpiritFinder.org. When she isn’t blogging, Jennifer loves to travel, volunteers at her local animal shelter, and rock climbs.