10 Habits of Highly Successful People with Bipolar Disorder

Last Updated: 23 Sep 2020

People who are successfully treating and living with their bipolar realize there’s no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to behavioral, emotional, and psychological protocols. Here are ten habits that work for them.

habits success bipolar disorder management treatment

#1 They’ve created their own treatment plan.

Through trial and error, these folks have created a personalized treatment plan that works for them. For one person, focusing on therapy for the mind may work, while someone else is better treated with a certain medication and specific adjustments to their daily routines. All treatment—medication, therapy, and lifestyle—needs to be designed specifically for you.

#2 They rally a supportive team.

First, they are not afraid to ask for help; second, they understand that they need the assistance of others when they can’t help themselves. They know that support comes in many forms—such as joining a support group, either online or in person. People living successfully with bipolar also nurture their support team by staying in contact, communicating, and expressing deep appreciation for the help and support they receive.

#3 They practice mindfulness.

A meditation practice improves your ability to manage work, organize tasks, and focus in stressful situations. Over the past decade, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve a whole host of health and disease outcomes; new studies demonstrate what’s happening to the brain in order to produce these beneficial health effects. It shows that meditation reduces interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress adults. Other people may practice a movement-based form of mediation, such as yoga, swimming, or walking.

#4 They know their triggers and have a plan.

Knowing which stressors leave you vulnerable to depression and/or mania can help prevent recurrences. Work-related stress, sleep disturbances, and traumatic life events can all be triggers, and having a plan to help prevent minor symptoms from turning into a full-blown episode is vital. Successful individuals have put together a comprehensive plan, usually with the help of their spouse and/or family. They understand how to recognize the beginnings of either depression or mania and what they will do in such cases.

#5 They have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Whether they find it challenging or not, they know that having a healthy lifestyle—eating well and moving more—is a crucial complement to a treatment plan of medication to maintain mood stability. Studies now prove that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to have certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, making a nutrient-dense diet all the more important.

#6 They have good sleep habits.

For people living with bipolar, sleep is found to be a significant cause of stress. We know that sleep problems don’t just affect mood, they can also be the cause. People who are successful with their bipolar treatment plans know to keep a steady rhythm throughout their day . . . going to bed and rising the same time each day and following the same bedtime routine.

#7 They stick to a schedule/routine.

The schedule itself is personalized to each individual, but the point is they stick to their set routines—especially for the important aspects like their medication protocol, exercise, diet, and sleep. They know that by doing something regularly, like brushing one’s teeth, it soon becomes second nature and doesn’t take willpower to stick to it.

#8 They pay attention to their thoughts.

They are aware of the loop that links bipolar depression, anxiety, and negative thinking, and they work hard at breaking free of this. They learn to shift out of negative modes such as catastrophic escalation, pessimism, and destructive self-talk and instead choose a more positive and practical outlook to almost every situation.

#9 They are grateful.

They understand that gratitude has a strong association with well-being and that practicing this state of being has a positive influence on their mood, relationships, outlook, and overall happiness—all of which can protect against anxiety and depression. Some people have found it helpful to keep a daily journal and write what they are grateful for every day.

#10 They keep a journal.

Whether it’s charting their moods, diets, exercise, or even what they’re grateful for, the simple act of writing it down somewhere (or typing for that matter) does something to further instill the subject matter to memory. Besides the validating and therapeutic benefits of journaling, writing one’s thoughts down in a journal can be meditative as it forces one to think only of certain thoughts and not about everything at once.

About the author
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs. As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
  1. I am a bipolar manic depressive physician neurologist…irony of life suffering from this grave neurological condition of Bipolar disorder. after being successful for many years as a practicing neurologist I got this illness with suicide attempts x 2 , my identical twin brother shot himself in a forest, my dad died..I turned into an alcoholic and lost my license to practice, facing charges and now bankrupt dealing with foreclosures after making millions of dollars in clinical practice. I have been homeless and jobless because of this mental illiness and dont know what to say…I got out of jail last year after spending 14 months in county jail. any suggestion from all or any bipolars.

  2. To those affected with bipolar and/or schizo-affective or other disorders and are being treated with LIthium, please read this.

    I was prescribed Lithium for years by a Psych MD who did not monitor my kidney function levels (Glomular Filtration Rates).

    A new Primary MD caught the fact that my kidney function had diminished to the point that I had (and have) Chronic Kidney DIsease and was approaching the point of the need for kidney dialysis. She was instrumental in getting my Psych MD to stop prescribing the Lithium and my levels improved afterwards. I am still stuck with the diagnosis of Chronic Kidney disease however.

    I must admit that the Lithium did help me function better – in fact it did a great job with that, but I encourage anyone prescribed with it to have your Psych MD kidney monitor your kidney function levels (perhaps every 3 months or so via blood tests).

    Learned the hard way – hope you will not have to.

    1. Joe, I was under a psychiatrists care. Had blood work done every 3 months . Still ended up going toxic on Lithium. I now suffer from CKD Stage 3. I was only on Lithium for 6 months, Toxicity can come on quickly.
      I also was very high functioning while on lithium, unfortunately it caused more harm than good

  3. I fought with being told that I had a mood disorder beginning in my early 20s, though my symptoms began before age 18. I just ignored the diagnosis, several times to be honest, and I pretended that it hadn’t been made.
    By age 30, I’d acquired a serious prescription drug and alcohol addiction, and if I hadn’t gotten arrested for drunk driving with a blood alcohol at about 3 times the legal amount at age 36, I probably wouldn’t have lived much longer. I decided that night, as I spent a night in a jail cell, to try to get sober. Just try.
    I did just that 2 weeks later. I sobered up, receiving 6 months of detox, treatment, and post care. I’m still sober today. I made 8 years sober in December.

    Things went upward from there. Five years into sobriety I was back in college but having focus issues. I knew my youngest child and my 2 siblings had ADHD, so I got tested too, in case it was the reason I couldn’t focus or sit still. I was also just beginning to have intrusive thoughts and visions for the first time. It scared me shitless, so I told the psychologist I saw about it too. After several visits and questionnaires galore, at age 41, i was again diagnosed as having a mood disorder, as well as ADHD, cptsd, OCPD, and panic disorder.

    I still remember leaving that doctor’s office a month later, simply shocked, because after I’d taken 30 days of bipolar meds, i was told that yes, for sure, I didhave bipolar disorder. Bipolar I at that.

    It was the happiest day of my life in some ways, because I finally understood why I couldn’t manage my life or my emotions at times like other people, why I never slept until the shadow people showed up on day 3, why I drank and took pills to cope. But then it was absolutely the most devastating day too, because I learned that I was to blame for so much of my own painful and desperate suffering. My ego, as ego will do, had kept me from believing that I was different from everyone around me, it kept me from accepting that my mind was not functioning properly, that something could be and was wrong with me. I was mentally ill.

    For over 20 years I fought it tooth and nail. I. Am a parent, so understand that I say this out of love and commiseration for both you and your son as I have lived in both your shoes….It just takes what it takes to accept a bipolar diagnosis, and the meds are still a decision I still must reaffirm several times a day. There are so many side effects. So many times they are working perfectly, and I convince myself that my mind is well now. It never is. 5 days off and I am a horrific emotional mess and wondering why I am so stupid again to stop medication. I’ve been on meds for almost 4 years, and at least annually I’ll decide I’m cured. I never am. This is the fight of my life. When a bipolar patient dies, they should definitely earn a battle patch or something. I fight against myself so hard to get well, it takes all of me many days. But I keep fighting because I love the people who love me, and I know I’m needed. Your son needs to feel needed as well because we self loathe too much to fight for ourselves very long.

    I’m probably the most strong willed person I know, and yet, I have to break my own will every single day to do what you’re looking for your son to do. This took me almost 20 years to accomplish. Just really try to understand how very difficult it is to find out that you are different, and you have no hope really of ever shaking what’s wrong unless you take meds daily. Meds that cause tarditive dyskinesia and cognitive impairment and heart damage. A disorder that people misunderstand as being wishy washy or worse yet, violent and crazed.

    You ask what you can do for your son, and I wanted to share my story with you because I was exactly like him. First, again, need him. Make sure he knows that he’s needed, he feels needed.

    And then just love him until he gets in enough pain to cooperate, because that is what it comes down to for most of us, I believe. Pain is the great changer. As for you doing for you, you’re going to have to do the hardest work of all- letting him make his own choices.

    All the best to him and you.

    1. You are lucky that meds work for you.

  4. Hi I have a son just running 20, he had first onset of bipolar a month ago, hospitalized for a month. As a father working in mental health field for him is not helpful, he thinks I am comparing my clients on him while talking about importance of medication, and alternative therapy. Please suggest me what step I should take to convince him that I am supportive. And in this early diagnosis of bipolar what is your experience and thoughts of recovery.

    1. Show him this post

      1. It must be gut wrenching to offer help to your treasured child and not have it accepted but ultimately it’s his journey and it might take time for him to trust anyone to help. Trust takes a long long time to develop and the looping negativity doesn’t help. It has a paranoid edge to it so trust is in short supply. All you can do is stay calm, keep your voice from going higher when you are frustrated. Try to keep it soothing. Whatever you have to say will be easier to hear if you keep stress or negative judgement out of your voice. Again, there is a little paranoia in the mix. I hope he finds his way soon but it won’t help if you push him hard. He’s just now dealing with the diagnosis. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept about myself. Give him a wee bit of ‘space’ but stay close by. Eventually you might become his go-to person when he needs support….and he will need support. If he can’t take advise from you the best thing you could do is help him find a professional who he can trust. I wish you all the very best!

  5. Our son (30+) is bipolar and he also has yearly times when he ends up in the hospital. His relapses seems to revolve around his failure to successfully make friends. He does not know how to make a friend, nurture a friendship, or keep a friendship and instead transfers peer support as friendships (when in fact they are not). In the past, he used money to buy friendship in bars or others ways such as starting parties or giving tickets to attend sporting events with him, etc. When the $ runs out, so do the “friends” and due to his past high-functioning level, he then steps down a notch in quality of acquaintances, those eventually thin out and then he steps down another notch and eventually he is giving out his apartment to homeless people just to not be left alone. (His wife left him 6-uears ago) and when this fear of loneliness hits him he cycles into deep depression and negative thoughts. It is a heartbreaking spiral and one I now think is just this inability at age 30+ to find a true friend.
    We suggested he become involved in an area of interest in the community(lives in another state) but he is so eager to be liked and his desire to feel important and needed makes him appear to others as desperate and that his eagerness to be a friend scares some or turns them off on wanting to get to know him more or be his friend. Any suggestions?
    He is being released from a psych ward soon for trying to commit suicide and he is scared that being in a room and board is going to be too lonely and he is afraid he will again become depressed and is feeling quite alone even before he is released. He will have no car, little money, and now no job. Open to suggestions of how to help him.

    1. Hello Lucy is it too soon for him to maybe get a volunteer post, if he wanted to of course that might not be something he wants to do. I know that when I have been well I enjoyed doing voluntary work in a charity shop but there is a huge variety of different volunteering opportunities. Also is there any bipolar groups where you stay? We have one in Edinburgh but I can’t go as my son is only 11 & I am a single parent but not worry.

    2. Adding to what ck said about structure, one thing that might help is finding a hobby and building friendships around that hobby. Sometimes working alongside someone else and sharing a common interest can be a better framework for a healthy friendship, as opposed to codependency. I also struggle with bipolar disorder, so I understand where he’s coming from. It can be scary to lose control, and sometimes we adopt some not too helpful coping strategies without realizing it.

      There’s an online group I’ve tried called meetup.com. They have groups for photography, music, animals, anything he’s into – there are all kinds of options. I suggest he check it out. The goal is to replace the self destructive, outerly- focused, approval seeking behaviors with something that will build his sense of self efficacy. It’s really hard at first, starting at square one, but I suggest he find something and stick to it. People with Bipolar tend to juggle, (I’m still working on it, lol).

      I’ve lost friends along the way too, and I’ve realized that as you build yourself up – and practice healthy communication – the right people will come into your life. I’m grateful to have the kind of friends and support I have now, and I’ve been through some rough episodes, so I know it’s completely possible for him. He’s very lucky to have a mother that wants the best for him.

      P.S. – volunteer work does wonders. 🙂

    3. Creating structure in his life and building a small but loyal community of support are two foundational things that may help him.

      I make these suggestions as I also am 30+ with bipolar II, I recognize some of your sons behaviour as things I struggled with when I was younger. Life was one day after another of self medicating with alcohol and believing drinking buddies were good friends. It took a few times of personal struggle to realize that it’s quality over quantity when it comes to good friends. Being open with my close friends about having bipolar helps them understand when my behaviour seems off.

      Staying out of the bar scene is a pivotal when recovering. It takes a lot of strength to learn to say ‘no’ and get a good nights sleep instead. My mantra while learning to say no was ‘Nothing good happens after midnight.’ Repetition makes saying no easier with time. Now I relish declining an invitation to a night of bar hopping or leaving the party at 10 to get a good nights sleep.

      Finding structure has also been huge. Things that seem simple like setting a routine schedule, committing to plans and generally being reliable to yourself and others can seem like impossible tasks. It starts small, take your meds, get out of bed, brush your teeth, go to therapy, repeat. It takes work and the desire to get better and I still struggle with these things but when I’m healthy I do my best to focus on them.

      Maybe these things can help him and when he feels like he has some stability in his day to day life he can work on learning to be comfortable alone. Having that comfort level with himself may help the issues you described with the desperation of approval. I’m speculating here, approval seeking isn’t something I’ve struggled greatly with but have an acquaintance who cannot be by herself. She often tells me about how much she hates being by herself but doesn’t work on becoming more comfortable; instead she constantly chases the company of club friends, drug dealers or people 10-15 years younger than her since most people her age don’t want to heavily drink 4 nights a week.

      Lastly, I can’t tell you how many times my own mother has pushed me to get involved in the community or try new things. The advise is sound but it only helps when you’re healthy enough to embrace it. The ‘lead a horse to water’ adage applies here.

      Best of luck to you. Your son is very fortunate to have a mother who is helping him search for answers.

    4. Lamictal might help

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