Learn to Say 'No' When You Work with Bipolar

February 24, 2021 Nori Rose Hubert

It can be a struggle to say "no" on the job when you have bipolar. We live in a culture that prioritizes productivity and output over physical and mental wellbeing. Many people feel obligated to take on more work than they can handle at one time or to provide labor that they are unfairly compensated for. Learning to say "no" in the workplace is an act of self-preservation, and it's especially important for folks who work with bipolar disorder.

Learning to Say 'No' at Work Because of Bipolar Is Not Selfish

We have to learn to say "no" at work because bipolar disorder is a variable and volatile illness that requires a lot of lifestyle adjustments to manage. This can make finding stable, sustainable, and enjoyable work difficult. I think many folks with bipolar feel additional pressure to take on extra work or obligations (such as working erratic shifts or taking on too many projects at once) as a way to impress employers and increase the chance of maintaining a long-term job. Unfortunately, this kind of overworking can easily lead to burnout, which isn't ideal for managing bipolar and mood shifts. This can and often does lead to a vicious cycle of mood episodes and job loss that damages a person's mental health even further.

I have personally experienced this kind of burnout in both my professional experience and personal relationships. I have often felt obligated to give more energy or time than what I could healthfully manage. While I do have a tendency towards perfectionism, looking back, I see that a big part of it was a desire to make up for the procrastination, forgetfulness, and volatile emotions that were exacerbated by my disorder.

I perceived these things as character flaws and believed that I had to overcompensate to "prove" my professional worth, as well as my value as a friend and partner. After doing a lot of internal work, I realize that while it is always good to strive for self-improvement, these things (which are often triggered by biological misfirings in my brain that are outside of my control) do not make me "bad" or "unworthy," and I don't need to burn myself into the ground to "make up" for them.

This realization gave me a lot of strength to say "no" when asked to take on tasks that I know are too much for me -- which has not only improved my mental health but has also made my day-to-day life more enjoyable.

How to Say 'No' on the Job When You Work with Bipolar

If you work with bipolar disorder and struggle to say "no," the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to remember that your labor is precious. You are worthy of an employer that recognizes that. If you find that your boundaries are not respected at work, or if you are experiencing retaliation for protecting your time and energy, it may be time to consider looking for a new position.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions for how to say "no" when you work with bipolar.

  • "I'm sorry, but I am unable to take on an additional project at this time. I need to complete my current assignment(s) first."
  • "I appreciate your confidence in asking me to work on this campaign, but at this time am not able to give it the attention it deserves."
  • "Thank you for inviting me to this weekend's team-building activity, but I need to pass right now."

Each situation is different, but remember that your first priority should always be your health and wellness. Tending to your mental health will take you further in your career than exhausting yourself -- and your bipolar brain will thank you.

How do you find the courage to say "no" at work? Let us know in the comments.

APA Reference
Rose, N. (2021, February 24). Learn to Say 'No' When You Work with Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 21 from

Author: Nori Rose Hubert

Nori Rose Hubert is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of the forthcoming novel The Dreaming Hour. A lifelong Texan, she currently divides her time between Austin and Dallas. Connect with her on her website, Medium, and Instagram and Twitter.

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