Self-care is especially important for people with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. How we take care of ourselves has a huge impact on our overall health, both physically and mentally. Knowing how to take care of yourself is not necessarily innate. We know we need food and shelter, but beyond that we have to be taught how to make sure we’re living at our best. This is especially true in the case of bipolar disorder. We have to do certain things differently than others in order to maintain the highest level of functioning possible. In my previous post, I gave five actions you can take for self-care. Here are five more.
Keeping yourself fit is good for your overall health. People with bipolar disorder tend to have higher probabilities for other health problems like metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise can help keep these in check. Not only that but exercise can reduce stress and produce endorphins that, over the long run, can help your mood. It doesn’t have to be boring gym time either. Find something you actually enjoy doing. Team sports or workout groups can also help you socialize. Be careful if exercising during a manic period as exercise may exacerbate symptoms.
2 Keep a clean environment.
A messy house can be very stressful. Not only is it visually overstimulating but can act as a reminder of chores undone. It also can keep us from focusing. All of these have a negative impact on those with bipolar disorder and may exacerbate symptoms. Do a little cleaning every day to make sure your space stays tidy.
3 Keep track of symptoms.
When you keep track of your symptoms, you can start to tell when an episode might be coming on. Then you can begin making preparations like informing your social support system. Maybe you need to come up with an emergency plan or give someone your credit cards. It’s also helpful to keep track of sleep, diet, menstruation cycles and any other environmental stressors. This can be done either by journaling or using an app. Having this information on hand is also beneficial during appointments with your therapist and psychiatrist.
4 Avoid overstimulation.
About 20% of the general population may be considered “highly sensitive” in that our brains process stimuli differently than others. We are easily overwhelmed by smells, lights, noise and stressful environments. If the nervous system is in overdrive that can cause serious stress, which can lead to exacerbated symptoms. If you feel like you’re overstimulated, remove yourself from the situation at least for a little while to calm back down.
5 Learn to say “No, thank you.”
It is incredibly easy to over-commit yourself. Friends and co-workers ask favors. Then there are social obligations. Socializing is important, as is doing well at work, but people with bipolar disorder need to be even more wary of over-commitment. Too much activity or giving of your time and energy is exhausting mentally and physically. Keep this kind of stress in check to avoid increasing symptoms or possibly triggering an episode.
Bonus: Listen to your mind & body.
Most people stay so busy these days that they don’t spend time paying attention to what they need to do to stay healthy. Take some time each day to evaluate where you are mentally and physically and figure out if there is anything you need. There are times when you may need more sleep, times that you should stay home from work and times you may need to cancel social engagements in order to best take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to do so in times of emergency in order to practice the best self-care possible.
Image credit: Fit Approach