Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on February 01, 2022
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Nurture Yourself with Exercise

One of my early signs of bipolar disease was an exercise addiction. It destroyed my body: I developed osteoporosis and suffered joint damage. I realize now that I did that as a way to escape all the thoughts crowding my head. Today, I teach Nia, a fitness practice that is a blend of dance, martial arts, and healing arts. While before I used exercise to numb myself, this form of activity helps me feel more centered and alive.

-- Jennifer Hicks, a fitness instructor in Toronto

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Reach Out to Others

It’s important that you stay connected and don't isolate yourself. The more you withdraw and pull away from others, the more likely your mood changes will go unnoticed, which jeopardizes your health. Social connections help so much with bipolar because having empathy and understanding from others can make it easier to manage. Join a book or outdoor activity club. Or volunteer. Doing good for others can help alleviate depression.

-- Holly Schiff, PsyD, a psychologist in Greenwich, CT

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Create Little Rituals

Small rituals -- even just taking pills at a prescribed time and place -- can provide a sense of calm that helps lower anxiety. Around 8 each evening, for example, I sit in my favorite chair and sip a cup of chamomile tea. It’s a point of certainty in a very uncertain life. The more detailed the ritual, the better. This way, if a crisis happens, the rituals act as known spaces of safety to which the person can return.

--Alfredo Borodowski, PhD, a rabbi and social worker in White Plains, NY

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Stay on a Strict Sleep Schedule

Sleep is key to managing bipolar disorder. In particular, it’s important to have a consistent sleep-wake schedule. People with bipolar disorder are very sensitive to changes in circadian rhythms, so just going to bed or waking up an hour or two later can exacerbate symptoms. We’ve all heard the stories about the college student with bipolar who pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper and ended up in the hospital 3 days later.

-- Timothy Sullivan, MD, chairman of psychiatry at the Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, NY

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Have a Treatment Toolkit

Create a treatment plan that also includes daily, weekly, and monthly items for both managing your condition and self-care. Sometimes I can do it all, and everything feels under control. But other times, I can't even complete my daily requirements, like feeding myself or performing basic hygiene. This signals to my husband that I may need help picking up prescriptions or making doctor appointments.

-- Shannon Vought, a bipolar disorder advocate in Charlotte, NC

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Don’t Self-Medicate

A lot of people who have bipolar disorder turn to marijuana to try to manage symptoms. That’s a big mistake. Here’s why: It contains THC, a psychoactive compound that makes you feel high. But the bipolar brain has a lot of trouble regulating chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin. Throw some THC into the mix, and you run a real risk of triggering a maniac or depressive episode. It’s better to create a natural high through activities like regular exercise.

-- Julie A. Fast, a bipolar disorder advocate in Portland, OR, and author of Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder

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Don’t Get Complacent

Oftentimes, when bipolar treatment works, patients let their guard down. They start to miss medication doses and don’t show up for therapy sessions. But consistency is key for the successful management of bipolar disorder. It only takes one or two skipped pills or therapy appointments to unravel all the progress you’ve made.

-- Carly Harris, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Newport Healthcare in Santa Ana, CA

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SOURCES:

Carly Harris, licensed marriage and family therapist, Newport Healthcare, Santa Ana, CA.

Jennifer Hicks, fitness instructor, Toronto.

Holly Schiff, PsyD, psychologist, Greenwich, CT.

Alfredo Borodowski, PhD, rabbi and social worker, White Plains, NY.

Timothy Sullivan, MD, chairman of psychiatry, Staten Island University Hospital, Staten Island, NY.

Shannon Vought, bipolar disorder advocate, Charlotte, NC.

Julie A. Fast, bipolar disorder advocate, Portland, OR; author, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder.