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What Is a Bipolar Routine?

What Is a Bipolar Routine?

I have talked many times about how important a routine is in bipolar disorder (Limitations and Rules that Keep Us Safe). There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is because bipolar disorder is considered a circadian rhythm disorder by many medical professionals. Your circadian rhythm is critical to your functioning as a human as it tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake (among other things) and trying to go against it is like swimming upstream. Assuming bipolar disorder is, indeed, a circadian rhythm disorder, we should do everything we can to work to regulate our circadian rhythms in a healthy manner. Keeping a strict bipolar routine is one major way of doing that.

What is a Routine?

A routine, obviously, it just a set of things you do in a given order at a given time repeatedly. Each person’s routine is unique. There are certain components that I think every bipolar routine should contain, but there are many that vary from person to person.

My Bipolar Routine

I’m not suggesting my routine is the best or that you should copy it, but at the request of a reader, I’m sharing it just to give you an idea of what a bipolar routine might look like.

  • 7:40 AM – Wake up and get out of bed (do not hit the snooze button)
  • 7:45 AM – Morning ablutions, take medication and say good morning to the cats
  • 7:50 AM – Make breakfast (I eat the same, quick-to-produce breakfast every day) and decorate coffee
  • 8:00 AM – Eat breakfast while watching TV
  • 8:30 AM – Start work
  • 9:30 AM – Feed cats and give insulin (to my cat)
  • 12:00 PM – Take medication
  • 1:30 PM – Take break and afternoon nap
  • 7:00 PM – Take medication
  • 8:20 PM – Put on blue-light-blocking glasses
  • 9:30 PM – Take medication, clean the kitchen, set up coffee maker, give the cat his insulin, clean the cat box, brush teeth (and the like)
  • 10:30 PM – Go to bed

Naturally, many things in my day take place around these events, but these are the ones I do every day at the times I have listed.

The really critical parts are:

  • The same wake-up and bedtime every day
  • An evening routine before bed

Aren’t Routines Boring?

Well, yes, I suppose so. But routines do two things:

They make you higher-functioning because you know that every single day you are going to accomplish certain goals as they are consistently scheduled (like, for example, that my kitchen is always clean when I go to bed). They work to stabilize mood (especially the sleep schedule) as shown in therapies like social rhythm therapy.

And because doing things (side effect free) every day both makes me feel more well and function more successfully, routines are absolutely worth having and worth sticking to. These are the gains you need to focus on in order to maintain the motivation to stick to a routine.

Yes, I realize that having a set routine means inflexibility. Yes, I realize that people bristle against that. Yes, I realize that routines take work. Yes, I realize people like to think they can “do whatever they want.”

But if you want to be well, it’s unlikely that medications alone are going to do it for you. You’re going to have to maintain certain lifestyle choices in order to support the gains the medications make. That’s just part of the work involved in getting better.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

17 thoughts on “What Is a Bipolar Routine?”

  1. I have a routine controlled by technology. Alarms that get me up, when to shower, take meds, leave for work, breaks and lunches at work etc. I found that works for me. I have a set work schedule since I’m a manager. My quirkiness (bipolar and ADD) has let me flourish in the world of retail. My doctor agrees that because I work a job that requires lots of energy I am able to take a stimulant for my ADD and low dose mood stabilizer and increase when I know I’m gonna have a bad time. I have times of the year that trigger episodes like clockwork. So my schedule includes increasing my meds to prevent episodes

  2. @Melissa

    Please make sure your doc is ordering blood tests; specifically thyroid levels. I know lithium can wreak havoc with those hormones, and having had thyroid problems in the past, I know that the pain-to-the-touch (from the shower) that you seem to be experiencing can be a symptom.
    I sincerely hope you feel better than this soon.

    And thank you all for this thread — I’ve been feeling very isolated in my experience lately, and you’ve lightened my heart considerably.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your routine! I am very well aware through a billion articles suggesting a daily routine, but have yet to find one that gave any examples of one. It may seem obvious, but as many of you know, when you are overwhelmed by your mental illness even the simplest thing can become difficult. This is a great jumping off point for me (we also have pets), and I can now edit to suit my own stuff. THANK YOU!!!! LIFESAVER!!!!! (many caps, apologies, but omg I’m so grateful)

  4. I’m sure this is right but I was invalided out of my “high-functioning” job 10 years ago so lost my routine. I go to bed around 3AM and get up between 11AM and 2PM… I do have regular, scheduled activities (singing lessons, choir, church) but during the holidays I’m lost and lonely. August is the worst so I’m taking part in an opera productions for 12 days… I no longer enjoy travel as it’s too disruptive. Thanks, Natasha! I’ll take inspiration from your timetable/schedule and will use it to write the memoir I’ve started.

    NB: The form has the wrong email address. I can’t correct it online!

  5. Melissa

    I had the same sleep/wake cycle problem. Sometimes med changes will do that. I had to give my body a little time to adjust. Some meds were just too sedating and some not enough. Sometimes the dose was too high or too low. Sometimes it wasn’t the right combination of meds. When I took my meds sometimes made a difference. I experimented a little on my own but ultimately I had to work with my psychiatrist to find the right balance. It’s your life, don’t settle for less than what is optimal for you and then fight like hell to get back on track the best you can. It’s so important to having a fuller life. I know it can be very hard to do but don’t give up til you find what works for you. Remember you have to speak up for yourself and be your own advocate. I know it can be very frustrating and discouraging at times but try to be patient.

  6. I am bipolar, diagnosed in 2004, but i think it started in my teens……..since ive been in the program i am in now, it has helped me tremendously, partial hospital for 6-8 weeks, then group therapy, such as anxiety, self esteem, symptom management, etc..i started out with making myself a routine to follow, strictly…worked very well with keeping me focused…..then the hypomania made an appearance for a few weeks, med changes, n then i try to get back on track. i would go to bed at 8-9 n get up at 7:00am for group..i found it almost impossible to do….if anyone has suggestions please let me know, as now i go to bed at 8:30-9 pm sleep till 12-1am and im up watching tv, or computer, reading till 4 sometimes 5 am…sleeping till 12 the next day…….i takes my meds religiously am-pm, 90% of the time…i forget……all i wanna do is sleep…very hard to take care of myself, shower mayb once a week, water hurts my skin……does anyone else experience any of these symptoms?????

  7. Having daily routine and structure in my life is an absolute must, especially if I want my days to be productive. I guess that’s why I tend to be more productive at work than at home. When I lived at home with my partents my days were much more structured as my mom made sure of it. I was made to get up at a certain hour every morning and went to bed by a certain hour every night. My bed was always made before breakfast, dishes were always done after each meal. Lunch was always prepared the day before. Dinner was at the same time every evening. Grocery shopping was done every Saturday. Laundry done every Sunday. I had a bubble bath every evening before bed. The majority of housework was scheduled on weekends during the day followed by a period of leisure in the evening, etc, etc. I also found it helpful to turn on the radio as soon as I got out of bed instead of the TV if I wanted my days to be more productive. Thanks for reminding me everyone how important structure can be. I used to balk at that sort of thing but now I understand the value of it especially for us bipolars.

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