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Tips to successfully manage your bipolar disorder

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Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression and mania (or hypomania, if symptoms are less severe), which can be debilitating. Fortunately, it can be successfully treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Here are the specifics on effectively managing bipolar disorder.

Accepting Your Diagnosis

For many people, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is distressing, especially when they learn that they’ll have to take medication their entire life. However, proper treatment is essential for living a healthy, productive and happy life. Bipolar Disorder itself can be a devastating and destructive illness. Getting a diagnosis means that you can seek the right treatment and feel better.

Medication

Medication is an important part of bipolar disorder treatment. Doctors typically prescribe a mood stabilizer or anticonvulsant medication to treat mania. Also, they may add an antidepressant for debilitating depressive symptoms, but antidepressants are not always indicated because they may trigger manic symptoms. It’s very important to be honest with your counselor about symptoms of both depression and mania so you can get proper treatment.

It’s common for individuals with bipolar disorder not to take medication. They may stop because of unpleasant side effects or because they’re feeling better. However, it’s vital that you take your medication as prescribed. Not taking medication only makes symptoms return and puts you at greater risk for a setback.

Before starting your medication, talk to your doctor about potential side effects — each medication comes with its own — and when you can expect to feel better, along with what symptoms should improve. Remember that you and your doctor are a team, so be open and honest with your physician and share your progress. It can be helpful to keep a journal of your daily symptoms (like your sleep and mood) and side effects. This is a good way to tell if your medication is working.

Psychotherapy

Various psychotherapies are effective for bipolar disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal and social rhythm therapy and family-focused therapy. With CBT, individuals identify unrealistic and negative thoughts that fuel their symptoms. For instance, people often have a tough time seeing mania as destructive or even negative. CBT helps you question these thoughts and make better decisions.

Interpersonal social rhythm therapy helps individuals manage relationships — which can suffer because of bipolar symptoms — and to develop regular routines of sleeping and waking, eating and doing other daily activities. Researchers believe that daily routines can help a person’s biological rhythms. This is important because research has shown that malfunctioning circadian rhythms are associated with bipolar disorder. In some studies, just adjusting a person’s sleep schedule can improve severe mood changes.

Family-focused therapy educates both the family and individual about bipolar disorder and teaches everyone effective communication and problem-solving skills.

Knowing Your Signs and Triggers

Some of the best ways to reduce the intensity of episodes include watching out for warning signs and minimizing triggers. You and your therapist will figure out the signs to anticipate, such as feeling incredibly energized or euphoric or getting easily irritated.

To find out your triggers, consider what life changes seem to contribute to your mood changes. Pulling all-nighters, for example, is a huge trigger for an episode, as are stress and traveling between different time zones. Every person also has unique triggers, which you and your therapist will explore, as well. For instance, your triggers might be fights with friends and poor school performance. Learning how to cope with these situations and your emotions is key.

Leading a Healthy Life

Again, healthy routines are key in improving bipolar symptoms because disruptions in your circadian clock play a big role. So it’s vital to get enough sleep, eat healthfully and participate in physical activity. Also, avoid drugs and alcohol. Drugs and even a few drinks can exacerbate symptoms — particularly your mood — and make medication less effective. A healthy routine also includes practicing relaxation techniques and coping well with stress.