Self-Care and Bipolar Disorder

Self-care is a common phrase that we see in media these days. While it seems like it may be somewhat of a “buzz” concept right now, it is critical for those with Bipolar Disorder and other mental health illness.  Self-care is defined as any action taken to maintain and improve our physical, mental, and emotional well-being so that we may be our best version of ourselves. Self-care varies from person to person, but it’s anything that refuels us and makes us feel happy and healthy. And it’s not selfish or self-centered–for those with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is recognized within the healthcare community as an essential part of a healthy and holistic approach to managing long-term chronic health conditions.

There are some general guidelines for physical and mental self-care for everyone. First of all, own your health–take your medications correctly, attend doctor’s appointments, track your emotions, and share feedback with your provider so you can make adjustments as needed. 

Prioritize sleep! Practice good sleep hygiene–keep a regular schedule (go to sleep and wake up around the same times), minimize napping, avoid screens before bedtime, and take time to wind down to encourage sleepiness as bedtime approaches. 

Keep a healthy diet and exercise (see previous posts about nutrition and exercise) and minimize stress whenever possible, at both home and work. If you find that you are reaching your limits, step back and ask for help in managing things that are stressing you out.

Create an emergency action plan with information about medications/schedule, emergency contacts, and treatment professionals. Share this with a doctor, friend, or family so that they know how to respond in an emergency.

The next set of guidelines are customizable. Identify and engage in activities that are pleasurable, renewing, and fun. Consider what you enjoy doing most, and work that into your wellness toolkit. There are countless activities, but here are some ideas to explore:

Go for a walk/hike/bike-ride, see a movie, read a book or magazine, write/journal, explore your artistic side with painting, crafts, or ceramics, or listen to/play music. More ideas? Play with animals, cook/bake, volunteer with an organization (like an animal shelter or soup kitchen), play a sport you enjoy, attend an arts performance, or have regular get-togethers with someone (or a group of people) you like. Having face-to-face contact with people is important–isolation can be a challenging part of Bipolar Disorder.

Along with fun leisure activities, throw in some relaxing activities as well, although they may be one and the same. Surround yourself with appealing scents and sounds, massage your feet or treat yourself to a massage from a spouse/friend or professional, or perhaps do some yoga or stretches or take a bath.

Now that you have pleasurable activities in your self-care arsenal, identify the things you don’t like! If something triggers anxiety or depression, you dread doing it, or feels forced, don’t do it! And do not feel guilty about saying “no” to these things. Self-care is intentional and should yield feelings of emotional wellness. 

If it’s a challenge to make time or sum up the desire for these activities some days, remind yourself that it’s part of your treatment and most of the time, you probably feel great after doing it. Consider a “motivator tool” such as this one that can assist in setting and reaching goals related to self-care.

It’s hard for people to put themselves first, and everything can be even more challenging for those dealing with Bipolar issues. But please remember that caring for yourself is a necessary component of your treatment, and results in a brighter, healthier life. And one last thing: Find ways to laugh! It’s easier to feel good when you’ve had a sincere laugh. Live, laugh, and love yourself.

Smith, A., Segal, J., and Segal, R. (2017). Living with bipolar disorder. Retrieved from:
International Bipolar Foundation. (2017). Self-management techniques for bipolar disorder. Retrieved from:
Smith, A., Segal, J., and Segal, R. (2017). Living with bipolar disorder. Retrieved from:
University of Michigan. (n.d.). Weekly Motivator Tool. Retrieved from:

Online resources for self-care and engagement
Often, those with Bipolar Disorder (or general mental health disorders) feel isolated and struggle to find community or understanding of their own disease. While there are cautions for engaging with social media, especially if it is a trigger for your anxiety, there are some great online self-care resources, discussions and communities. Some websites to try may include: 

Pinterest pages with informational pins:
General Healthline Mental Health Awareness
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance