Bipolar Disorder, Exercise, and a Healthy Lifestyle
Living with bipolar disorder involves seeing your doctor and therapist and taking your bipolar medication. There’s also a lot you can do to take charge of your health. Here are some suggestions:
- Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can help improve mood whether or not you have bipolar disorder. It can also help you sleep better. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of exercise routine you should try. Start slowly. Take walks around the neighborhood with a friend. Gradually, work up to exercising on most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet. No, there isn't a miracle diet for bipolar disorder. But a good meal plan can help you feel better and give you the nutrients you need. Avoid fad diets that force you to cut out food groups. Instead, focus on the basics: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar.
- Get a good night's sleep. Being overtired can trigger mania in those with bipolar disorder. So get into good sleep habits. Go to sleep and get up at the same times every day. Relax before bed by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Don't sit up in bed watching TV. In fact, experts recommend you make your bedroom a calming space, and only use it for sleep and sex.
- Relax. Anxiety can aggravate mood symptoms in many people with bipolar disorder. So make a real effort to relax. Lying on the couch watching TV isn't enough. Instead, try something more focused, like yoga or meditation.
- Reduce stress at home and at work. Ask for help with some of the stressful things in your life. See if your spouse, family, or friends will take care of some of the housework and other hassles. If your job is proving to be too much, think about ways of scaling back some of your responsibilities. Do what you can to simplify your life and make it easier.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can keep you up at night and possibly exacerbate your mood. So cut back -- or cut out -- soda, coffee, and tea. Alcohol and drugs can affect how your medications work. They can also worsen bipolar disorder and possibly trigger a mood episode.
- Get onto a schedule. Many people with bipolar disorder find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Incorporate all of these things -- exercise, healthy meals, relaxation, and sleep -- into a pattern that you more or less stick to every day.
Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can be a psychologically painful illness, and many people turn to alcohol or drugs for relief or find themselves using illicit substances as part of the recklessness associated with manic highs. Up to 60% of people with bipolar disorder also have a substance abuse problem. Drugs or alcohol use can cause mood symptoms that mimic bipolar disorder, and can make an underlying mood disorder worse and less responsive to treatment.
If you think that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you need to get help now. Don't assume that treatment for bipolar disorder will make your abuse problem go away. It won't. As hard as it may be, you need to tackle both problems at the same time.
Talk to your health care provider about your options. Look into local substance abuse groups. Dealing with your abuse problem is crucial to your recovery.