Realistic Self-Care in Bipolar Disorder

July 13, 2018 Natasha Tracy

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Bipolar disorder and self-care is something everyone talks about. Self-care, in general, is just a major topic in the world of mental health. What few people recognize, though, is what realistic self-care looks like. It's not enough to harp on about self-care for those with mental illness, we need to focus on what realistic self-care in bipolar disorder, and severe mental illness in general, looks like.

What Is Self-Care in Bipolar Disorder?

Self-care in bipolar disorder and, indeed, in any mental illness, is the act of doing something to care for the self. Simple, I know. Lists of self-care activities can be found all over the Internet. Common self-care activities range from practicing yoga to taking a bath to going out with friends. Most of the self-care activities shown on those lists are helpful for some people.

Realistic Self-Care in Bipolar Disorder

The problem I think many people with bipolar disorder have, though, is that many self-care activities aren't realistic for many people with bipolar disorder. I think that practicing yoga, taking a bath or going out with friends are great things to do for yourself. The trouble is, when I'm really sick, I can't do any of them. 

I can't practice yoga because the medications make me too dizzy to do poses and when I'm really sick I don't have the energy to expend on anything other than breathing. When it comes to baths (or showers [Why Don't We Want to Shower When We're Sick]), I avoid that activity like the plague. And when it comes to going out with friends, there are several brick walls of problems that must be overcome before an activity like that can commence. 

Like I said, none of these things are bad self-care ideas, I just don't think they're realistic self-care in bipolar disorder if you're in a severe episode.

What Does Realistic Self-Care in Bipolar Disorder Look Like?

I think realistic self-care for those with bipolar disorder is different for each person. They key, though, is to, in fact, be realistic about what you can actually achieve. Like I said, the above don't work for me -- they are way too much and way too hard. 

So, while many people will tell you that you have to do some big thing in order for it to be called self-care, I would suggest otherwise.

My examples of self-care are:

  • Planning to cook something and buying groceries for that thing (the groceries might even be delivered)
  • Taking my medication
  • Choosing to eat something nutritious
  • Drinking an extra glass of water
  • Walking an extra 100 steps (or more, depending on how my energy level is)
  • Phoning/texting/emailing a friend
  • Going to bed at a consistent time
  • Brushing my teeth
  • Asking someone for help with my errands

My point here is to think small and still count it as self-care. Yes, I know, those things above are generally things people do every day and think nothing of it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't count for me. Just because other people find them easy, doesn't mean that I do. And there's nothing wrong with that.

There's nothing wrong with saying, "I can't go to the gym, but I can walk an extra 100 steps."

There's nothing wrong with saying, "I can't cook but I can choose to buy premade food that is healthy."

There's nothing wrong with saying, "I can't leave the house but I can wish my friend a good day via text message."

And all of these things should be recognized as examples of us caring for ourselves.

I have talked many times about how tough bipolar disorder is and how our goals must be broken down into smaller chunks and how bipolar disorder can limit what we can reasonably do. I know that's a tough pill to swallow, but for many, it really is the truth.

What also is true, though, is that we can make strides and treat ourselves well every day. These things look different for a person with bipolar disorder than they do for a person without a mental illness, but we can still see these positives when we look for them.

So the next time you read a lofty self-care goals list, just know that you, too, can participate in self-care activities even if you are in a really bad bipolar episode. You can do this. You just have to adjust it to fit your needs -- because nothing cares for the self more than that.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2018, July 13). Realistic Self-Care in Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

September, 18 2018 at 9:52 am

Thanks so much Natasha . I’ve been wondering why I can’t seem to do much most days. It feels really painful when I get pushed to do more when I just don’t have the energy.

July, 17 2018 at 4:10 am

You are such a great writer! I'm so glad to not be alone in my struggles. I feel like all I have energy for is breathing right now. You made me feel better about myself. Thankyou!

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