By Stephen Propst
Over the past five years, “Mind over Mood” has provided practical, recovery-oriented approaches to managing bipolar and maintaining balanced living. We’ve examined everything from sleep and self-esteem to wellness workouts and mental makeovers. Now, it’s time for a refresher. Here, from previous columns, are 20 of the most recurring themes and best strategies for keeping on course, when it comes to helping yourself or someone you love who’s on the road to recovery.
SELF-INVENTORY: Every now and then, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviors, and ask yourself where there’s room for improvement. Doing so may provide some insight, which is crucial to recovery and a better quality of life.
THINKING: What you think and believe impacts your self-esteem, your well-being and your recovery. In the midst of mania, thinking you are indestructible can have devastating consequences. In the depths of depression, believing that your situation will never improve can put you into a deeper slump. When you have a twisted thought or backward belief, stop and restate the remark more realistically. Change “I’ll never get better” to a resounding “I can recover!”
PERSPECTIVE: Are you guilty of looking at the glass half empty, rather than half full? Do you find yourself thinking that you’ll never get better or never achieve your dreams? When you actively adopt a more positive outlook, that step alone brings wellness into closer reach. A change in perspective begins by focusing more on possibilities and less on problems.
IDENTITY: Having a mental illness is not easy, and it doesn’t help matters to define yourself as the illness. Identifying with your symptoms while ignoring everything else that makes you unique makes no sense. Don’t let bipolar become the sole focus of your life, because there’s so much more that’s singularly sensational about you.
SENSITIVITY: As someone with bipolar, it’s easy to let even the smallest things get to you. And wearing your emotions on your sleeve can thwart recovery as well as hurt your relationships. If you develop a Teflon-like outer shell that allows some of the small stuff to slide, you’ll eliminate a lot of stress and have fewer messes to clean up.
LAUGHTER: Laughter is an excellent prescription for better health. It reduces stress, wards off illness, and helps us manage pain. It also provides a feel-good outlet for pent-up emotions. Make a commitment to laugh out loud each and every day. I can always tickle my funny bone by spending time with friends who make me chuckle.
ANGER: Allowing your anger to get the best of you can lead to hostile, aggressive behavior with regrettable consequences. If you are having trouble controlling your anger, seek out help from your therapist or a professional who specializes in anger management.
SELF-ESTEEM: When bipolar disorder coexists with low self-esteem, a vicious cycle can occur. Poor self-esteem creates anxiety and stress, which negatively affects your stability. High self esteem gives you a more solid foundation from which to manage bipolar, work on your recovery, and move on with your life. Therapy can be invaluable in helping you accept yourself for who you are.
CHANGE: Even if you recognize that you need to take steps to improve your situation, you may become paralyzed out of fear that you might go too far down the wrong path. Once you know that you want to make the changes necessary to reach your full potential, trust yourself to take a step in a new direction.
STRESS: Use stress to your advantage. Instead of letting it wear you down, turn it into a catalyst for building strength, stability, stamina, and self-esteem. When you learn to control your reaction to the source of stress, you turn stressful situations into opportunities for growth.
SLEEP: Getting plenty of sound, restful sleep positively impacts the brain’s capacity to control emotions, handle decision making processes and govern social interactions. The better you manage your sleep, the better you’ll manage your mood.
MEDICATION: The right medication is an essential ingredient in recovery, but it’s not the only one. Drugs are no panacea. A prescription is not going to teach you effective behaviors or generate positive reinforcers. If you must, seek professional help to change false assumptions and beliefs or negative thinking.
SUPPORT: Support groups can be a safe harbor in the midst of a storm. They offer the opportunity for people with a common burden to provide mutually beneficial encouragement for one another. Explore support groups in your community, for a safe environment for sharing thoughts, gaining new insights and renewing hope.
MINDFULNESS: A total wellness workout means minding both mood and muscle. It means tackling triggers as well as working out with weights. And it means sleeping well and eating right. Only when you pay attention to both mind and body can you look and feel your best.
FEAR: There are times when fear may keep us from participating fully in life. Once we realize that fear is a state of mind, we can choose to face our fears, change our minds, and create the life we want to live. Start by separating what you desire from what you fear. For example, don’t let the fear of trying a new medication keep you from finding one that might have fewer side effects. Sort out your thinking, and stay focused on your goal.
PATIENCE: We all want immediate results, but with bipolar disorder there simply are no quick fixes. Counting on a miracle cure will only cause frustration. The road to recovery is not a straight shot; it’s a winding path with delays and detours. Progress can be made, but it takes time. So let patience be your guide. And here, some tips for loved ones and others who make up the important support networks for those with bipolar.
UNDERSTANDING: Educate yourself about the illness and try to understand its implications on your loved one’s life. Armed with knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to offer the kind of encouragement, motivation, and support that can make a world of difference.
COMMUNICATION: Before you “fire away,” take a moment to consider how what you say may have an effect on someone with bipolar. Choosing your words carefully can strengthen relationships, fuel recovery, and make for a better quality of life for everyone.
NURTURING: If you care for someone with bipolar, don’t forget to take care of yourself, as well. You won’t be of any service to anyone, if you get exhausted or sick. So, take a deep breath, be easy on yourself and don’t believe it’s solely your responsibility to turn things around and make everything right.
HOPE: If there is one piece of advice for anyone who cares for or about someone with bipolar disorder, it is this: keep the faith and never give up. Many times in my life I had nothing to fall back on but hope (and the fact that I am still writing this column is living proof that it kept me going). So, let your hope for a loved one spread—it’s contagious!
Remember, you don’t have to squash your appetite for a rich, satisfying life. Using the right recovery tools can help you function productively, cultivate meaningful relationships and feel better through and through.
Stephen Propst, who lives with bipolar, uses the concepts he writes about in his own recovery. He is a popular public speaker and a coach/consultant focusing on living successfully with conditions like bipolar. Stephen was formerly chair of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) board of directors.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephen’s column focuses on practical tips for living in recovery. Readers should be aware that there might be times when an individual needs more immediate professional medical attention.