Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that leads to dramatic swings between mania and depression. These mood swings can be mild to severe and interfere with a person’s day-to-day life.1
Usually, a person with bipolar disorder needs to take medicines to control their symptoms throughout their life. But research shows symptoms are best managed when those medicines are combined with therapy and self-management techniques.1
Self-management techniques are lifestyle changes that are proven to keep bipolar symptoms under better control and improve quality of life. Some of the most common tips for self-management of bipolar disorder are:1
- Developing good sleep habits (called sleep hygiene)
- Learning and using stress management techniques
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Finding support
Many of us fall into habits that get in the way of a good night’s rest. This can be a particular problem for people with bipolar disorder since a lack of sleep can trigger symptoms. Also, sleeping too little or too much are common bipolar symptoms. All of these are reasons why doctors recommend good sleep hygiene for people living with bipolar disorder.1
Sleep hygiene is a series of habits that help you get enough restful sleep. This combination of daily choices helps you improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested when you wake up. Sleep hygiene tips include:2
- Keep a consistent schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations. Set a schedule that gives you 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Create a soothing evening routine to help your body wind down.
- Avoid caffeine, heavy meals, nicotine, or alcohol near bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and comfortable.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Get regular exercise so your body is tired by the end of the day.
- Reserve your sleep space for sleep and sex.
Stress happens because life happens. But stressful events are a known trigger for bipolar episodes. So, teaching yourself how to manage stress in a healthy way can help you manage your bipolar symptoms. Stress management comes in 2 types:1
- Ways to streamline your life to prevent or reduce stress
- Ways to improve coping skills so you can handle stress in a healthier way
No single stress management technique works for everyone. One person may prefer a daily walk, while another may find meditation helpful. Yet another person may need to say no to extra commitments or learn to meal prep so meals are easier.
Building up mental strength (resilience) can help you cope with stress. Many people learn to build resilience by practicing mind-body techniques such as:3,4
- Tai chi
- Relaxation and breathing techniques
- Keeping a stress or gratitude diary
Your therapist may have some suggestions for which stress management techniques may work for you.4
Eat for wellness
Eating a healthy diet helps you get the nutrition you need while managing the weight gain common with some bipolar drugs. Studies show that certain nutrients are helpful in managing bipolar symptoms, including:3,5
- Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of healthy fat found in some fish and nuts
- Folate (folic acid or B9)
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood, and whole grains can help people with bipolar disorder manage their weight. And it lowers the health risks that come with an unhealthy body weight. Doctors also often suggest avoiding stimulants like caffeine and avoiding or minimizing depressants like alcohol.1,3,5
People with bipolar disorder are cautioned to avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol is linked with an increased frequency of symptomatic episodes. Unfortunately, the common mania symptom of having fewer inhibitions makes drinking too much more likely for some people.6
Bipolar disorder and alcohol use commonly go together. In fact, some studies estimate that up to 4 in 10 people with bipolar disorder will develop some form of alcohol use disorder during their life.6
Science shows that exercise may work at improving bipolar depression. A 2023 study found that 12 weeks of a combination of treadmill walking or running and weight lifting (strength training) suggested improved symptoms of depression in half of the participants.7
All the study participants also increased muscle strength and reduced their percent of body fat. Best of all, regular exercise improved symptoms of depression without triggering mania.7
However, it is important to note that the size of the study was small and participants were also receiving other treatment while the study was being conducted. More research is needed to understand exercise’s effect on bipolar disorder.7
Building a supportive community around you is key to overall wellness when you have bipolar disorder. Finding doctors and therapists you trust has been shown to reduce suicide risk and improve treatment outcomes.1
Medicine may not be enough to control bipolar disorder. Focusing on your physical and mental wellness plays an important role in keeping you healthy and living a fulfilling life.