Having bipolar disorder means living life knowing that you have to manage your triggers in order to avoid severe mood shifts. But major (and unpredictable) stressors, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can make coping with the condition that much harder.
Living with bipolar successfully starts with finding proper treatment, which is often a combination of therapy and prescription medication. But practicing daily self-care (no, not the bath bomb-and-scented candle-type of self-care we see on TV) can empower you to take greater control over your symptoms and make it easier to recognize when you may be slipping into a depressive or manic episode.
So as we continue navigating this pandemic and slowly inch forward towards normalcy, these simple self-care habits and strategies can help you keep your moods in check and reduce the frequency and severity of bipolar episodes.
Take care of your body
Practicing hygiene is good because it helps you care for your body and can help you prevent disease. But when you’re going through a mental health crisis, things like showering, brushing your teeth, or combing your hair may be the last thing on your mind. Sometimes, being depressed can make the idea of hopping in the shower pointless or extremely draining. During particularly long episodes, you may feel like you don’t have the energy, patience, or motivation to invest some time taking care of yourself.
First of all, it’s important to know that you’re not alone: both poor hygiene and excessive grooming are common symptoms of mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder. But many people find that focusing on their hygiene during low mood episodes can help them come out of it sooner.
When depression is getting the best out of you, try to:
- Use hygiene as a measuring stick: it’s hard to know just how bad things have gotten until something or someone points it out. So if you notice that you’ve constantly been struggling to perform basic daily activities like showering or brushing your teeth, it may be a sign that you need to reach out for help.
- Start small: you don’t have to force yourself to take a full-blown shower, shave, or do your hair if your mental health is making it tough to function. Instead, try taking small steps, like wiping your body with a washcloth. But, again, if you feel too sick to perform these basic activities most days for an extended period, consider reaching out for support.
- Develop a routine: establishing and sticking to a consistent daily routine can help stabilize the mood swings of bipolar disorder. Additionally, including at least one small aspect of personal hygiene like brushing your teeth, washing your face, or clipping your nails into your day-to-day routine can make taking care of your body more manageable and rewarding.
Sleep is essential for keeping bipolar symptoms in check. Unfortunately, insomnia and other sleep disturbances are common in people with mental health conditions — and appear to play an important role when it comes to mood regulation. Building healthy sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, promotes deep, restful sleep and can help you control manic and depressive episodes. Here’s how:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule
- Don’t use electronic devices in bed (the blue light on your phone disturbs your circadian rhythms)
- Limit caffeine intake
- Make your bedroom comfortable and use it only for sleep and intimacy
- Limit or avoid daytime napping
- Block out noise and light
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Whether you’re an occasional drinker or drug user, any amount of mood-altering substances can worsen bipolar symptoms and increase your risk for serious medication interactions. For example, stimulant drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines can trigger manic episodes in sensitive individuals. In contrast, depressants or “downers” like alcohol and opioid painkillers can trigger bouts of severe depression.
Set healthy boundaries around social media
There is growing evidence that social media use increases symptoms of anxiety and depression and can contribute to a decline in mental health. For one, social media apps have the same kind of rewarding effect that slot machines trigger on your brain, which means that they can become pretty addictive. Also, the constant stream of filtered and curated images of other people’s lives can exacerbate insecurities and make you feel inadequate about your appearance. Research also shows that high social media usage increases rather than decreases feelings of loneliness.
Here are some ways set healthy boundaries around social media to protect your mental health:
- Set time limits
- Turn off notifications
- Be selective with what you share…
- …and also be selective with what you consume
- Connect with others in real life
- Take outdoor breaks
To wrap things up
Living a happy, functional life with bipolar disorder is entirely possible. However, it takes time and work to identify what works and what doesn’t to manage your symptoms. In addition to working with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you, make it a habit to incorporate self-care practices into your daily routine. With time, these healthy practices might help you identify possible triggers and hopefully reduce the frequency of mood episodes.