Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme shifts in a person’s moods, energy levels, and concentration. Self-care strategies are an important part of treatment, in combination with psychotherapy and medication.

Bipolar disorder can cause people to experience unusually intense emotions and behave in extreme ways. These episodes can be highly energized and manic or depressive.

Practicing self-care can help people with bipolar disorder take an active role in managing the illness, which can help them feel more in control.

This article discusses why self-care is important, how to recognize the warning signs of an episode, and how to plan for difficult times. It also looks at finding support.

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Someone with bipolar disorder can experience intense manic episodes in which they feel highly energized and euphoric. The intensity of the mood can become uncontrollable, and a person may become irritable, reckless, and unpredictable. A person may take uncharacteristic risks and behave out of character.

Bipolar disorder can also cause depressive episodes. During a depressive episode, a person may feel uncharacteristically low, sad, and hopeless. Depressive episodes can also lead to psychotic symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

Self-care is an important part of treatment because it can help a person feel more in control of their recovery. Self-care can also help a person plan for future crises while they can think and reason clearly.

Although more studies are necessary, research shows that self-care strategies may help people maintain a balanced mood and prevent escalation into mania.

A 2017 study found that self-care may help improve quality of life and reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression in people with bipolar disorder.

Part of a self-care strategy is tracking and monitoring moods to identify warning signs of an episode.

A person may be unaware of an episode as it occurs, but learning to recognize the warning signs may provide insight, reveal patterns, and help improve how someone manages the condition.

People can keep a journal or use an app, such as MoodFit, to track their moods, energy levels, sleep, and behavior patterns.

Warning signs of a manic episode may include:

  • racing thoughts
  • having more energy than usual
  • feeling unusually powerful or important
  • sleeping less

Warning signs of a depressive episode may include:

  • feeling sad or anxious
  • difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • trouble concentrating
  • a lack of interest in activities
  • feeling worthless or hopeless

Read about bipolar psychosis.

Self-care can include planning for potential crises while a person feels well. This is because a person may be unable to concentrate or use good judgment during an episode.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests creating a wellness recovery action plan.

The plan should instruct loved ones and healthcare professionals on the steps to take during an episode. A person should review the plan with loved ones and keep a copy readily available.

The plan should include information such as:

  • contact details of the mental health professionals treating the person
  • contact details of the person’s friends or family
  • the person’s address and phone number
  • the person’s medication and diagnosis details
  • contact details for a local mental health crisis service
  • locations of nearby emergency rooms and walk-in crisis centers
  • the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call or text 988

A person should identify local support systems, including:

Family, friends, or loved ones

During an episode of mania, a person may not recognize that their behavior is out of character. Loved ones may be more able to recognize atypical behavior.

A loved one can help keep the person safe or contact mental health or emergency services if necessary.

A mental health professional

A psychiatrist can treat bipolar disorder with medication and psychotherapy, which can help a person manage and cope with bipolar disorder.

A person can discuss their condition with a doctor, who may refer them to a mental health professional.

A person can also find mental health services in their area by:

  • visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) online treatment locator or texting their ZIP code to 435748
  • calling the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Stress can trigger a manic or depressive episode, so managing stress is important.

A person can discuss stress with their psychiatrist, who may help by providing medication, techniques to reduce stress, or both.

A person can try stress-reduction techniques such as:

Maintaining a schedule for regular exercise and healthy eating can help provide structure and improve a person’s mood.

Regular, vigorous exercise such as swimming or jogging can help improve a person’s mood, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve sleep.

Eating well and exercising regularly can also help limit weight gain, which is a common side effect of medications to treat bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition, which means that a person typically requires ongoing treatment.

A person must take their medication consistently and correctly, as directed by their doctor. A person should not stop taking their medication if they feel well for some time or if their mood is especially high, which could indicate a manic episode.

Medication may include:

Read about medications and mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder.

The following resources provide information on support groups for bipolar disorder:

Crisis support services

During a mental health crisis, individuals can contact a mental health crisis service:

A person can find out more about getting help with mental illness on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website, or by calling NIMH: 1-866-615-6464.

Self-care strategies can help people with bipolar disorder to manage the condition. They include managing stress, taking medication as a doctor prescribes, and learning to recognize changes in their mood and behavior.

People can discuss their self-care strategies with loved ones, mental health professionals, and support groups.