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5 Tips for Working With Bipolar and Depression

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Managing symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder can be a full-time job; managing symptoms while maintaining employment can be downright exhausting. Regardless of your work schedule, whether you are employed full-time or part-time, working in-person or remotely from home, we have compiled five helpful tips that may support you in effectively managing your symptoms while maintaining a successful work life. By implementing these tips, we hope you will find greater stability and harmony in your personal and professional life.

  1. Practice self-compassion. 

You won’t feel up to working some days, and that’s OK. Identify anything you have immediately due and get those tasks done. If you can’t, communication is key. Ask for a time extension or delegate to a coworker.

  1. Your best one day may be different than your best the next. 

Living with bipolar disorder or depression can affect your ability to work and maintain productivity at times. It is important to understand that this is not a reflection of you personally or a result of laziness. To effectively manage these challenges, proactively planning and completing tasks in advance may be helpful. This way, you will have a fallback option for days you cannot work.

It is crucial to remember that your value as an individual is not solely based on your work output but rather on the qualities and characteristics that make you who you are.

  1. Move throughout the day.

Movement is associated with increased mood and mood stabilization throughout the day. If you find your mood waning or your anxiety increases as your workday progresses, consider scheduling movement breaks into your day. You might take five minutes every hour or so to move from your workspace to another location. If you work from home, maybe you take five minutes to unload the dishwasher or fold some laundry. Wherever you work, you could move laps around the building.

If mobility is a challenge, move in a way that works for you. The important thing is to break up the day into smaller, more manageable chunks and to get the blood moving.

Similar advice may apply if you work in a position that requires you to be up and about all day. Physical pain can exacerbate symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. If your employment requires you to be in one location for long periods, such as a cashier in a department store, try marching in place or swinging your arms at your sides to avoid stiffness. You may also flip the above advice to ensure you get breaks for your body and mind by finding a quiet place to rest and decompress for a few minutes every hour.

  1. Keep up with your treatment plan.

Ensure that you consistently take the medications prescribed to you. While it may be tempting to bypass treating episodes of mania due to the perceived boost in productivity, doing so carries significant risks. Untreated mania can escalate into depression and negatively impact your professional relationships. To help you stay on track with any medications, you can try a pill organizer, set a timer, or use reminders to prompt you to take your medications as prescribed.

Open communication with your health care provider is essential, especially if you experience medication side effects during work hours. Discuss the possibility of adjusting the dosing time or amount with your doctor to minimize disruptions to your daily routine. Certain side effects, such as tardive dyskinesia, can sometimes be confused with symptoms of other conditions. The more informed you are about your treatments, the more effectively you can communicate any emerging symptoms or side effects to your health care provider.

In addition to medication management, managing stress, both work-related and not, is a meaningful way you can work to diminish symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Whether by engaging with a therapist, attending a tai chi class, or something else, limiting stress helps offer stability that can transfer to positive outcomes inside and outside the workplace. 

  1. Make a plan for self-care for non-work hours.

When living with depression or in a depressive episode with bipolar disorder, it can be tempting to use your free time lying in bed, sleeping, or generally avoiding the world around you. This can include ignoring essential elements of self-care like hygiene and meal prep. Developing a structured plan for your non-work hours can be a beneficial strategy to counteract this tendency.

Consider creating a daily list of activities that contribute positively to your mental health and complete some based on your available energy. Checking one thing off the list daily can help motivate you to complete a self-care task, even when your symptoms make it tempting not to. 

These five tips offer practical guidance for maintaining mental well-being and a successful work life. Remember, practicing self-compassion is essential. Acknowledging that some days may be more challenging than others and being proactive in managing tasks, even on difficult days, can help you maintain a sense of control.

Originally published: December 1, 2023
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