Overall health and stress levels impact the brain. Those with bipolar disorder tend to be more sensitive. Recent research even suggests that these factors can flip certain genes on or off to protect against or trigger illness. To give your body, including your brain, what it needs to function well, focus on five major areas: sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress management, and relationships.
A decreased need for sleep is not only an early warning sign of an impending mood episode, but it's also a possible trigger for mania or depression. Sleep deprivation traumatizes the brain and the body and increases your risk of illness and injury, both of which make managing bipolar disorder more difficult.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you sleep, but you can take additional steps to improve sleep quantity and quality. Many people find that establishing a regular routine of going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning does wonders. Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime also helps.
Although no particular diet can stop the symptoms of bipolar disorder, making healthy nutritional choices can help to reduce the risk of other major health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. Choosing healthy nutrition is more important than an overemphasis on losing weight; weight can be fickle and difficult to change, whereas your food choices are more manageable.
Exercise is particularly helpful for relieving depression, but overdoing it can be a sign of a looming manic episode. Think about adding moderate exercise to your daily routine; walking is a good start. Consider a super short period of vigorous movement; strongly increasing your heart rate even for just one minute a day may be enough to improve your overall health. Start with as light a workout as you need and find an exercise or activity you enjoy, so you'll be more likely to do it and stick with it.
Stress is anything that stimulates or places a demand on the mind, body, or emotions. It can come from inside or outside and be negative or positive. A ringing phone is a stress, but the actual content and intensity of the stress varies widely depending on several factors, including who's calling and about what. In response to a stress or demand, the body kicks off a variety of internal changes to help respond appropriately to the situation.
Bipolar disorder affects the stress response system, making it harder for the body to turn off the internal chemical responses when they're no longer needed. High doses of stress such as big life events, both good and bad, can destabilize mood and trigger episodes, so look for ways to dial down the pressure in your life. You can't eliminate all stress, but identifying sources of high intensity stress or distress that's chronic and never lets up is a good first step. You can then troubleshoot or problem-solve to begin to reduce the dose of stress from each source, therefore reducing the total stress load in your life. Avoiding especially demanding or painful situations is one way to cope, but there are others, including changing the way you respond to the stressors and teaming up with others in your life to reduce everyone's overall stress level.
When you have bipolar disorder, you quickly find out who your true friends are. They're the ones who don't judge you, who try to learn about the disorder, and who offer to lend an ear and a hand without treating you like a child. Having at least one good friend in your corner is essential. Surrounding yourself with a network of supportive friends, family members, and others is even better. However, you may need to make some tough relationship choices along the way and work on the relationships you decide to invest in.