Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, what kinds of treatment are available, and how you can help yourself cope. Also provides guidance on what friends and family can do to help.

How can I help myself cope?

Bipolar disorder can make you feel like you have little control. However, there are lots of things you can do to manage your symptoms and increase your wellbeing:

  • Monitor your mood. It can be helpful to keep track of your moods over a period of time. You could try using a mood diary (there are many freely available, such as this one from Bipolar UK).
  • Understand your triggers. For example, if you often feel high after a late night or low when facing a deadline, it can help to recognise these patterns. Then you can take action to avoid the trigger, or minimise its impact.
  • Learn your warning signs. You may start to notice that there is a pattern to how you feel before an episode. This could be:
    • changes in your sleeping pattern
    • changes in your eating patterns or appetite
    • changes in your behaviour.
    Being aware that you are about to have a change in mood can help you make sure you have support systems in place and that you can focus on looking after yourself. It can also help to discuss any warning signs with family and friends, so they can help you.

"I have to be careful how much social contact I have – too much can send me high. I have to start saying 'no' to demands."

  • Stick to a routine. Having a routine can help you feel calmer if your mood is high, motivated if your mood is low, and more stable in general. Your routine could include:
    • day-to-day activities, such as when you eat meals and go to sleep
    • time for relaxation or mindfulness
    • time for hobbies and social plans
    • taking any medication at the same time each day – this can also help you manage side effects and make sure that you have a consistent level of medication in your system.

"I have an alarm set on my phone so I take my meds at the same time every day."

  • Manage stress. Stress can trigger both manic and depressive episodes. There are lots of things you can do to make sure you don’t get stressed or look after yourself when you do encounter stress. (See our pages on managing stress for more information.)
  • Manage your finances. You can contact National Debtline for free, impartial financial advice. (Also see our page on money and mental health for information on the relationship between money worries and mental health and our legal page on financial decisions and capacity for information on your rights.)
  • Plan ahead for a crisis. When you’re in the middle of a crisis it can be difficult to let others know what kind of help you would find most helpful, so it can be useful to make a plan while you are well for how you want to be treated when you are unwell. (See our pages on crisis services for more information.)
  • Get enough sleep. For lots of people with bipolar disorder, disturbed sleep can be both a trigger and a symptom of episodes. Getting enough sleep can help you keep your mood stable or shorten an episode. (See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more information.)
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can help you feel well, think clearly and calm your mood. (See our pages on food and mood for more tips.)
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help by using up energy when you’re feeling high and releasing endorphins ('feel-good' chemicals in the brain) when you’re feeling low. Gentle exercise, like yoga or swimming, can also help you relax and manage stress. (See our pages on physical activity for more information.)

"The trick for me is not to be seduced by the 'high' and to look after myself – get enough sleep, good nutrition."

Building a support network can be really valuable in helping you manage your mood. A support network might include friends, family or other people in your life who you trust and are able to talk to. The kind of support they can offer includes:

  • being able to recognise signs that you may be manic or depressed
  • helping you look after yourself by keeping a routine or thinking about diet
  • listening and offering understanding
  • helping you reflect on and remember what has happened during a manic episode
  • helping you plan for a crisis.

"When I tip the balance by going too high or low, I approach people for support."

Peer support

Making connections with people with similar or shared experiences can be really helpful. You could try talking to other people who have bipolar disorder to share your feelings, experiences and ideas for looking after yourself. For example:

It can also be helpful to see if your local area has a recovery college. Recovery colleges offer courses about mental health and recovery in a supportive environment. You can find local providers on the Mind Recovery Net website.

If you're seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. (See our pages on how to stay safe online for more information.)

"No two people's experience is the same but there's a peace and joy in not having to explain. Of shared understanding. Of coming home."

This information was published in May 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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