A plan that limits mood swings is crucial for control
The widely swinging moods and energy levels that are part of bipolar disorder can make day-to-day living difficult. Most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder will need to manage it for the rest of their lives; having a plan that limits mood swings is key. Here are nine rules of thumb:
Take your meds. Though there’s no cure for bipolar disorder, taking your prescribed medications can, in time, reduce mood swings and other symptoms. Common medications—mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants—can have side effects, which might tempt you to stop taking them. But skipping meds can make your symptoms worse. If you experience side effects, talk with your doctor about ways to manage them. Don’t just abandon your treatment plan.
Avail yourself of talk therapy. Medication is important, but so is talk therapy. As part of your treatment plan, this can give you the guidance, education and support you need to cope with symptoms, recognize a relapse and avoid dangerous behaviors.
Establish a daily routine. During bouts of mania and depression, your sleeping and eating habits can change. Sticking to a regular schedule can help you can better control symptoms of mania and depression. Changes in your sleeping or eating habits could signal a relapse, so tell your doctor about any such changes.
Guard against risky behavior during manic periods. One danger associated with high mood swings—when your thoughts may be racing, impulsive and unrealistic—is the likelihood of making bad decisions. You may feel overly confident, but these feelings can be deceptive. You may also be easily distracted during manic periods, which can lead to reckless behavior that can take physical, emotional and financial toll on you.
Be aware of the special dangers of depression. When you’re depressed, you may have trouble concentrating and have thoughts of death or suicide. Up to 15 percent of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide. That risk is highest among those who aren’t being treated and are in a depression mood swing. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 911 immediately.
Keep a daily life log. Living with bipolar disorder can mean unpredictable changes in your mood, sleep patterns and medication side effects. A daily log will help you and your doctor get a better sense of how you’re doing, and your doctor can adjust or switch medications to keep your symptoms under control.
Steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Abusing drugs or alcohol is quite common in people with bipolar disorder. Known as “self-medicating,” drinking to or drugging to blunt mood swings only make symptoms worse and can trigger a relapse.
Stay on top of other medical issues. Heart disease, obesity, diabetes and migraine headaches are just a few of the health conditions more common in people with bipolar disorder. Left untreated, these medical issues can make you feel worse. You should also have your doctor check for hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). One popular bipolar medication, lithium, can lead to low levels of thyroid hormone, which lowers energy levels and triggers rapid mood changes.
Build a solid treatment team. The professionals who help you keep your disorder in check include your primary care physician and your psychiatrist. But social workers, counselors and psychologists can be invaluable for emotional support. Make sure you also have a network of friends and family you can call on. And consider joining a bipolar support group to share your experiences with people who know exactly what you’re going through.