Characterized by chronic mood swings and other symptoms, bipolar disorder can be an intense, overwhelming condition. Also known as manic/depressive disorder, this illness is associated with extreme emotional highs and lows, and can affect virtually every aspect of health and well-being.

Thankfully, in addition to seeking professional help, there are several ways patients can manage symptoms and improve their quality of life. Keep reading to discover how you too can cope with the effects of bipolar disorder, simply, safely and effectively.

Follow Doctor’s Orders

Bipolar disorder can be serious in nature. Failure to follow doctor’s orders can lead to a variety of complications, including a worsening of symptoms and other disruptions to your daily life. To keep symptoms in check, medications should always be taken properly, i.e., on time and in the correct dosages. Plus, in addition to medications, psychological therapy can help patients gain a better understanding of the disease, as well as learn to pinpoint and modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

It’s important to note that, while medication can be an extremely effective tool in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, some drugs are associated with a number of risks and side effects. To protect yourself against the harmful effects of certain psychiatric medications, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor. It’s also important to be completely honest when it comes to factors like alcohol and drug use, medical history and bipolar symptoms.

By fully understanding your unique circumstances, a doctor is better equipped to administer the proper medications, thus reducing the risks of unwanted side effects. If you do experience troubling side effects, continue taking your medication, but contact your doctor immediately.

Identify Your Triggers

In individuals with bipolar disorder, identifying and avoiding triggers can help keep mood swings under control. And since triggers can vary wildly from person to person, the best way to identify your own is through close monitoring of your thoughts and behaviors. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal of events, stresses, the amount of sleep you get, your medication dosages, side effects of medication, etc. Over time, you may begin to see patterns in your moods and behaviors, which can help you learn to identify and avoid symptom triggers.

Also, while triggers vary, many patients experience an onset of symptoms as a result of stress, disturbances in sleep patterns, deviations from normal routines and major life changes like divorce, changing career paths, moving, etc.

Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Making the right lifestyle choices is essential in dealing with bipolar disorder. Diet and exercise, for example, can be extremely effective in managing symptoms and improving overall quality of life. Regular physical activity boosts the body’s production of mood-stabilizing chemicals, thus promoting feelings of well-being and enhancing overall quality of life. When it comes to nutrition, fresh, nutrient-rich foods can help combat symptoms like fatigue, mental sluggishness and more.

Avoid Self-Medication

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for patients with bipolar disorder to use drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medicating symptoms. And while, in the short term, alcohol and illicit drugs may help ease depression and other effects, the long-term complications of self-medication can be devastating to recovery. Using addictive substances often results in physical and psychological dependence, which can hinder treatment in a number of ways. What’s more, substance abuse contributes to depression and mood swings, and, in patients taking prescription medications, can also lead to life-threatening drug interactions.

Seek and Accept Support

Living with bipolar disorder is not easy. Dealing with mood swings and other symptoms can leave many patients feeling alienated from friends and family members, which only exacerbates symptoms and leads to feelings of isolation and depression. Instead of withdrawing, let your loved ones know what you’re going through, and ask for their support and understanding. Odds are, by keeping your friends, family members and coworkers informed of your situation, they’ll make an effort to be supportive and empathetic.