Bipolar disorder is nothing to mess around with. The highs can feel good but are dangerous. The lows, well the lows aren’t anything you want to experience. Feeling worthless, hopeless, like you can’t get out of bed no matter how hard you try… I get it. Meds can really help regulate your moods but they are not the end-all be-all for bipolar treatment. Research shows that medication combined with therapy and lifestyle changes are the most effective approaches to managing bipolar disorder.
Some people are really uncomfortable taking medication, or medication alone isn’t enough. So what do you do? Are there alternatives? The answer is YES!
1. Take a walk
I know, you’ve heard it all before. Get more exercise, blah blah blah. Sorry folks, I’m going to say it again. Exercise is good for the heart and muscles, but even more than that it’s good for improving our moods. During the highs of bipolar it can help burn off excess energy. During the lows it can release some much needed endorphins. Plus it will help you sleep better at night. Anyone with bipolar knows that sleep is challenging – challenges with going to sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much. You don’t have to go to a gym and pump iron or knock yourself out on a treadmill. Just get outside and take a walk. A 15-20 min walk will do the trick. If you only have 10 min, do that. That leads me to #2 on the list…
2. Get outside
How cool, you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone! Get outside and take a walk. Direct sunlight on the skin helps with vitamin D production. Vitamin D is directly connected to mood regulation. And sunlight in the morning also helps regulate sleep patterns (see #3). During the lows of bipolar, it can feel impossible to get out of bed, take a shower, do basic tasks. I’m NOT telling you to “get over it” or “talk yourself out of it”. That doesn’t work. What I’m saying is to try doing the opposite of what every cell in your body wants you to do. Staying inside all day for days on end makes you feel worse. Get up and get out of the house for a few minutes. Walking to the mail box, or go to the convenience store to pick up some milk (or whatever). Force yourself to go out for a couple of minutes and then give yourself permission to do whatever you like for the rest of the day. Try it and see if it helps.
3. Get regular sleep
When you’re in a bipolar episode, getting regular sleep is very difficult. And if you don’t it can perpetuate the mood disturbance. Sleeping too much can lead to depression. Not sleeping enough can led to a manic episode. Exercise and sunlight will help regulate your sleep patterns. Give yourself a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, and set your alarm for the same time every morning. Don’t sleep in on the weekends. Get up at your scheduled time. You can take a (short) nap later if you want.
4. Find a hobby
During the highs you’ll want something productive to do that won’t get you into trouble. No online shopping!! During the lows you’ll want something to perk you up. Find something that relaxes you or that you enjoy and schedule time to do it. Some ideas are artwork, sending a card to a friend or family, reading, watching a comedy, playing music, volunteering, gardening (oh yeah – that hits #1 and 2 as well), dancing, singing, or sharing your story. Take a few minutes right now to list 3-5 things that you might want to do to make yourself feel better.
5. Cut out the sugar
This is another one of those recommendations that we hear frequently. Recent research shows that sugar is highly addictive and that it can bring on depression. It’s tough, I really get it. Try it for 3 days and keep a mood journal during that time. See what happens. If your mood doesn’t improve then maybe you aren’t sugar sensitive. By the way, that includes refined carbs like white bread, pasta and rice. These foods turn into sugar as soon as they hit your blood stream and have a similar effect as eating a pile of ice cream.
You don’t have to be a saint and do all of these things all of the time. Commit to yourself that you’ll try one or two at a time and find out what works for you. Bipolar is an illness and medication can really help prevent you from heading into a spiral. (Please please please consult with your doctor before making any decisions about medication. If you don’t have a doctor yet, get one.) These tips can augment the helpful effects of the meds. Therapy can help you stay on track.