Bipolar disorder causes severe mood shifts, with a person typically experiencing episodes of both depression and mania. Although it can be challenging to live with this mental health condition, certain lifestyle adjustments may help a person feel more in control.

The early diagnosis of bipolar disorder can help a person live a more fulfilling life, as they can start treatment sooner. The medical community divides bipolar disorder into three main categories, with a fourth for unspecified diagnoses. The categories are:

  • Bipolar I disorder: This involves shifts from manic episodes that last at least 7 days to depression that can last for a few weeks.
  • Bipolar II disorder: This involves periods of depression and periods of mania that do not get as extreme as in bipolar I. Symptoms of hypomania, a milder form of mania, last at least 4 days.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: A person with this disorder will experience both manic and depressive episodes, but neither type is severe enough to justify a diagnosis of bipolar I or II.
  • Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders: Doctors use this diagnosis when a person presents symptoms of mania or depression that do not fully fit the defined categories.

Alongside their medical treatment, a person can make some lifestyle adjustments to help them cope with their symptoms.

A person living with bipolar disorder will need continual, lifelong care, but effective symptom management is possible.

Once treatment begins, many people living with bipolar disorder find that they can effectively manage their symptoms with a combination of therapies and lifestyle adjustments.

However, bipolar disorder can be a challenging condition to diagnose, and a misdiagnosis can be problematic. Experts point out that doctors need to identify the disorder and a person’s mood state accurately to establish a suitable treatment plan.

The treatment approach varies greatly depending on whether a person is experiencing hypomania, mania, depression, or mood disturbances, known as euthymia.

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), the short answer is “yes” — a person living with bipolar disorder can find happiness in life.

However, the long answer is more complicated, and there is a reason why this question comes up.

A person who has experienced a disruptive mania episode may become concerned when they feel happy, worrying that happiness could lead to a manic episode. Due to this, they may feel as though they cannot let themselves be happy.

The DBSA recommends that instead of focusing on happiness as a warning, a person should figure out their own personal triggers for a manic episode. That way, they can feel safer when experiencing happiness and watch for more specific signs, such as racing thoughts, that may indicate mania.

Finally, bipolar disorder medication can make a person feel flat or dull. The goal of treatment is not to make a person feel nothing. If this occurs, a person should let the prescribing doctor know so that they can make treatment adjustments.

People can take certain steps to help improve their overall health and reduce the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder or other comorbid conditions. These steps include:

  • eating a nutritious diet
  • exercising regularly
  • getting regular sleep
  • setting and keeping a structured schedule for daily activities
  • avoiding drug and alcohol use
  • learning personal triggers and developing a plan to avoid them
  • keeping track of all appointments by using notebooks, calendars, or personal devices such as cell phones to remember to attend each one
  • developing healthy, stable relationships with friends and family and asking them for help
  • taking treatment according to the prescription and sticking with it
  • allowing time for treatment to work
  • talking with a doctor if treatment proves ineffective or unwanted side effects occur

People living with bipolar disorder will respond to lifestyle changes differently. What works for one person may not be effective for another. It is important for a person to find what works best for them.

It is also important to take medication exactly as the prescription specifies. A person should not stop taking medication if they start feeling better. This is just an indication that the treatment is working well for them.

People living with bipolar disorder should try to avoid stress as much as possible. A person may find that certain stressful events trigger their mania or depression. Possible triggers include:

  • the death of a loved one
  • divorce
  • financial issues
  • illness
  • issues in a relationship
  • trouble at work

A person should also try to identify other triggers, which they can do by using a life log or chart to record their:

  • mood
  • life events
  • sleep patterns
  • treatments

Once they have determined factors that trigger episodes of mania or depression, they can discuss these with a healthcare professional. The healthcare professional can work with the person to create a plan to avoid these triggers.

Practicing specific self-care strategies may help you manage both manic and depressive symptoms.

When you’re experiencing a manic episode:

Schedule breaks throughout the day. Set a calendar reminder to take a break for 5 minutes several times a day to breathe deeply and clear your mind. You can also try other techniques to help promote relaxation during these breaks, such as meditation or journaling.

Limit yourself to one project at a time. Even though it may be difficult not to jump between several different projects, try to focus on finishing one project before you move on to another.

Prioritize sleep. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Dimming the lights and avoiding screens for two hours before bed can help you wind down at the end of the day and be more ready for sleep.

Exercise. If you have a lot of energy, channeling that energy into physical activity, such as a workout video or a jogging laps, can help keep your body healthy, and help tire you out.

When you’re experiencing a depressive episode:

Minimize darkness. Try to open window shades and curtains to let in natural light if possible, and spend a little time outside every day if you can manage it.

Reach out to a friend. If you can, try calling them on the phone, or meeting them in person, rather than texting or communicating over social media, which can still be isolating.

Change your surroundings. Even just getting out of bed or moving to a different room for a change of scene can give you some positive momentum.

Manage clutter at home. Being surrounded by clutter can negatively impact your mental state. Spend a short, manageable amount of time each day cleaning. Avoid getting overwhelmed by focusing on one small area at a time, especially a surface that you spend a lot of time looking at, like a kitchen table or a nightstand.

Lifestyle changes can help some people manage bipolar disorder. However, even if a person is feeling better, they should continue with their treatment to ensure continued success.

Coupling lifestyle adjustments with treatment can boost a person’s mood, help them avoid or limit triggers, and allow them to live a generally healthier, happier life.