Thriving with Bipolar: How Structured Routines Can Make a Difference

Routines refer to a habitual pattern of behavior or activity that is performed regularly in a set order or sequence. Although they are often associated with mundanity, they play a crucial role in maintaining mental wellness, stability and balance. Routines have been found to be particularly helpful in regulating and improving mood, which is why many people living with bipolar disorder find routines to be especially beneficial. Due to the unpredictable and often extreme mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, setting and maintaining routines as much as possible is often an important part of managing the symptoms.

One reason why routines are so helpful is because they provide predictability and structure, often minimizing anxiety and uncertainty about how one’s day will flow. Having a routine to follow ensures that each day has a set pattern or sequence, which can help individuals feel more in control and less anxious about what lies ahead. Additionally, engaging in small, familiar tasks can have a calming effect and provide a sense of accomplishment, which can help boost mood and self-esteem. By having regular activities scheduled throughout the day, people with bipolar disorder can also avoid overactivity or underactivity by keeping a scheduled routine in place, which is important because varying levels of activity can exacerbate mood swings.

Consistency in daily activities such as sleeping, eating, going to school or working, engaging in social time, and exercising can also help regulate the body’s internal clock, thereby reducing fluctuations in mood. Our bodies are wired to function on a 24-hour cycle, influenced heavily by natural light exposure and regular patterns of sleep and wakefulness. When we adhere to a consistent schedule of activities throughout the day, whether that involves waking up at the same time each morning or setting aside designated times for exercise and relaxation, our bodies become more attuned to this cycle. This internal clock plays a critical role in our mood regulation. By aligning with our natural circadian rhythm, we can boost our overall sense of well-being and reduce the risk of bipolar mood disruptions.

In addition, routines can help combat decision fatigue, which can escalate our stress levels and contribute to a mood swing due to the close link between stress and bipolar episodes. Decision fatigue refers to the mental exhaustion that results from having to make numerous decisions throughout the day. By having a set routine, individuals can reduce the number of decisions they need to make each day, conserving their mental energy for tasks that require more attention and focus. This reduction in decision-making can reduce stress and anxiety and promote more balanced moods overall, which is extremely important for those living with bipolar disorder.

Routines also provide a sense of purpose and direction. Without structure or direction, individuals may feel aimless and uncertain about what they need to do each day. This lack of purpose can lead to feelings of boredom, disengagement, and disconnection from life, which can all trigger bipolar depression. In contrast, by following a routine, individuals can ensure that each day has a specific goal or objective, with a clear plan for how to achieve it. This sense of purpose can help individuals feel more balanced and less susceptible to drastic mood changes.

Because people with bipolar disorder often use medication in their treatment to help them manage feelings of mood instability, routines can also be helpful for managing medication schedules. Taking medications at the same time every day can help stabilize moods and prevent disruptions. It can be challenging to remember to take medications regularly, but incorporating medication schedules into daily routines can make it easier.

Finally, routines can help people manage their social and emotional demands. For those living with bipolar disorder who struggle with intense emotions due to unpredictable mood episodes, routines can act as a buffer or coping mechanism. For example, a morning routine that involves meditation or mindfulness practices can help people start their day feeling calm and grounded. Similarly, a night routine that involves journaling or reflection can help individuals unwind from stresses and digest their day’s experiences. Incorporating these important self-care activities into a person’s routine helps ensure that these activities are prioritized and carried out.

Overall, routines can be helpful for people with bipolar disorder by providing structure, stability, and consistency in daily life. By establishing regular activities and behaviors, people with bipolar disorder can gain a sense of control over their lives, regulate their internal clock, develop a stronger sense of direction, keep up with a medication schedule, and prioritize time and space for self-care activities. All of these things combined can reduce the risk of mood swings. On the other hand, lacking structure in your day-to-day life can worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder, leading to more frequent mood swings and destabilization.

That’s why it’s so important for people to develop personalized routines that help manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. At River Oaks Psychology, we would be honored to talk with you about what’s currently going on in your life, how it may be contributing positively or negatively to your mood changes, and how we can collaboratively develop a structured routine to help you thrive while living with bipolar disorder.

Written by Lauren Presutti

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