Being better versus feeling better for Bipolar

We all know how it goes, you’re not feeling 100% your regular self so you choose an activity that might take the discomfort away for a while. Sometimes that might be a constructive activity like tidying up the house, exercise or meditation while other times it might be a destructive activity like drinking too much alcohol, misusing drugs, over-eating, gambling or engaging in unnecessarily risky activities.

Our goal as people with a bipolar condition is to engage in activities that make us become better in the long term rather than just to feel better in the short term. Each time you engage in an activity that helps you become better, you also become a little bit stronger. What we want to achieve is being just a little bit better today than we were yesterday, and tomorrow we’re going to become a little bit better than we were yesterday. Our ultimate goal is to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.

When we talk about long term wellness we should be looking far into the future. It’s going to take time and practice to get there. I try to look ahead in terms years rather than days or months in order to picture where I might be if I carry on improving myself. Make sure you maintain your well-being routine in times of both stability and instability. Many people fail to continue to look after themselves when they feel good which can eventually lead to slipping back into an unwanted state.

Sometimes, however, we need to just feel a bit better in order to give us the motivation to start being better. This is especially true if we’re in a depression or experiencing high anxiety. When you feel better for a while you can work on your longer-term goal of making lasting improvements. In this respect, it’s important to choose activities that are positive rather than negative.

What can we do in order to feel better?

If you’re experiencing a low mood you can start with some simple activities like taking a shower or bath, dressing a bit nicer, tidying parts of your home, getting outside, talking and engaging with others and ticking off some easy items on your to-do list. Achieving simple goals can give you the confidence to start on your next-level objectives.

Behavioural Activation, which means engaging in activities that you normally enjoy but may have been avoiding, has been shown to reduce depression dramatically. It can include anything like going out to watch a show, band or movie; something simple like taking a long walk in nature, calling or visiting your favourite person or maybe getting together with friends.

For me a sure-fire way of feeling better is by doing some exercise, preferably outside. This has a number of benefits; a change of scenery can change the gear your brain is in; it gets the blood and endorphins flowing and ensures you have achieved something quite momentous that day.

Volunteering your time without any expectation of a return has been proven to help lift moods. It can be something simple like helping a neighbor or friend, picking up the litter in your neighbourhood or park, using your skills to assist someone that needs it or even volunteering at a local charity or care home. If you look there are unlimited opportunities.

If you’re supposed to be working then ticking off some items on your task list can really help you to feel better. Start with the easiest and least daunting bits, often I find that once I’ve made a start it’s much easier to contemplate the more complex work and I just get on with it.

What other positive activities can you think of that could make you feel better?

What can we do to start the journey of being better?

All the items we list on our Getting Started page are designed to help you to become better rather than just feel better. These are long term in nature so they will take time to learn and put into practice but if you remember your main reason for wanting to get better then it will give you the motivation to keep on trying.

Here are a few ideas of things you can work on to become the best possible version of yourself.
1. Regular exercise, at least 3 times a week.

2. Practice mindfulness as often as you can each day. Include daily mindful meditation.

3. Take part in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and practice it daily.

4. Set up solid routines like getting to bed at a reasonable time.

5. Get Social: regular face-to-face, telephone or video contact with other people will help keep you in good mental shape. Find local interest groups, take part in team sports or just meet up with friends and family.

6. Join peer-to-peer or support groups that focus on Bipolar, depression, anxiety, anger, addictions or any of your conditions. Learn how others have been successful in managing their lives.

7. Volunteer on a regular basis.

8. Learn new skills and put them into practice. It’s been shown that keeping your mind active will aid in neuroplasticity and change the way your brain works. You can choose to learn something new for work purposes or just because you have an interest in it.

9. If you have addictions like gambling, shopping, excessive Internet and social network use, over-eating, using too much alcohol or recreational drugs etc., then find out ways you can cut down. Each time you catch yourself just before indulging in one of these instead of mindlessly acting out you will have made progress. Each time you then also stop yourself from performing the addiction you will become a bit better than before.

10. If you are feeling hypomanic then don’t let your mind get away with taking control. Use mindfulness to catch yourself and meditation to calm your mind. Don’t engage in activities that will further fuel the mania.

Homework: Start creating a long term plan for yourself, think of ways you can start being better and not just feeling better. Your future self will love you for it.