How to Cope with Bipolar Disorder During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The isolation of the pandemic can be especially difficult for those living with bipolar disorder

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
April 15, 2020

The global coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime. Everything — from our daily routines, to our financial situation, to our mental health — is affected. But for those living with bipolar disorder, our current reality presents additional challenges. Here’s what you need to know about how to cope with bipolar disorder during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bipolar disorder: signs and symptoms

Previously referred to as “manic depression” or “manic-depressive illness,” bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes dramatic shifts in mood, energy levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out our routine tasks. For example, a person with bipolar disorder could experience periods of extreme energy, productivity, and elation — known as manic episodes — and then at other times, go through periods of feeling sad, hopeless, or indifferent, known as depressive episodes. Instead of full-blown manic episodes, some people go through periods of hypomania, which are less severe. People with bipolar disorder also frequently have an anxiety disorder.

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: where a person experiences manic episodes that last at least seven days, sometimes so severe that they need immediate medical attention. Depressive episodes typically last at least two weeks.
  • Bipolar II Disorder: where a person experiences both hypomanic and depressive periods without the extreme manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: also called cyclothymia, people with this type of bipolar disorder have both mild hypomanic and depressive symptoms lasting for a minimum of two years.

Coping with bipolar disorder during coronavirus

With all of the extra stress and anxiety that comes along with the coronavirus outbreak, people living with bipolar disorder may need some extra support right now. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Russ Federman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating people with bipolar disorder, laid out the following strategies for handling bipolar disorder during the pandemic:

Keep up with your treatment plan
Now is not the time to stop taking medication or going to therapy. Stay in touch with your mental health providers and ask if you can schedule a telehealth therapy session. Also make sure that you have at least a 90-day supply of your medication, if possible.

Maintain a schedule
We may be stuck at home all day and night for the foreseeable future, but it’s important to keep up with some sort of routine to give structure to your days. If you are working remotely, stick to your typical work schedule, making sure to log off once your shift is over. If you are not currently employed, Federman recommends creating an agenda for your day filled with activities and tasks you can do around the house — like connecting with people via video chat, reading, playing games, doing crafts, cleaning, or other projects — noting that at the end of the day, you’ll have some sort of feeling of accomplishment, which may help boost your mood.

Practice good sleep hygiene
This is easier said than done during a pandemic, but giving your body and mind the chance to recover through sleep is important for people with bipolar disorder. Previous research has shown that when people living with bipolar disorder get enough sleep, it decreases their symptoms. 

Exercise when you can
Even if it’s a quick walk in an uncrowded area or a YouTube workout video, moving helps.

Keep in touch with people
Being stuck at home means that our social interactions have been limited to phone calls, texts, and video chats. But that’s no excuse not to maintain your social support system. Schedule time into your day to catch up with friends, family members, or colleagues. 

There is nothing normal about what we’re going through right now, and if you or someone you know needs immediate mental health support, there are hotlines and other resources available that could help. And if you’d like to start seeing a therapist remotely, there are more online options available than ever. 

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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