Can You Manage Bipolar Disorder Without Medication?

Woman with bipolar disorder looking out window.

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If you're one of the estimated 4.4% of American adults who may experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, you may be struggling with how to manage your condition. You may feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster, with highs and lows that are hard to control.

And, you may be hesitant to take medication to treat bipolar disorder because of potential side effects. While medication can be an essential part of treatment, it's not the only thing you can do to help ease your symptoms. This article will discuss some non-medicinal things you can do to help manage bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is generally a chronic, lifelong condition. While it is your choice whether or not to use medication, not doing so could lead to severe complications and significant risks to your health and wellbeing. The below strategies should be considered complementary strategies that can work alongside other interventions such as medication and therapy.

Non-Pharmacologic Options for Bipolar Disorder

If you are living with bipolar disorder, you may find that there are non-pharmacologic tools and adjunctive psychotherapeutic approaches that can be of benefit to improve your mood, cognition, and overall functioning. Some examples of these include the following:

  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help to reduce stress and promote feelings of calmness and wellbeing.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that can help you to identify and change negative thought and behavior patterns. CBT can also help you to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Problem-solving: Problem-solving exercises can help you to learn how to effectively deal with stressful situations.
  • Journaling: Journaling can help you to track your moods and identify triggers for your symptoms.
  • Art therapy: Art therapy can be a creative and therapeutic way to express your emotions.

Lifestyle Changes for Bipolar Disorder

In addition to mental exercises, there are also a number of lifestyle changes that can help to manage bipolar disorder. Some lifestyle changes that may be helpful include the following:

  • Sticking to a routine: Creating a daily routine and sticking to it can help to stabilize your moods. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, eat regular meals, and schedule regular times for exercise and relaxation.
  • Eating a balanced diet: Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to improve your overall mood and energy levels. Be sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein in your diet.
  • Exercising regularly: Exercise can help to improve your mood, sleep, and energy levels. A moderate amount of exercise is the best way to start—aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs: Alcohol and drugs can worsen bipolar symptoms. If you are struggling with substance abuse, it is important to seek professional help.
  • Managing stress: Stress can trigger bipolar symptoms. Learning how to manage stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and healthy coping mechanisms can help to prevent episodes of mania or depression.

Managing a Manic Episode

If you are experiencing a manic episode, there are a few things that you can do to try to manage it. Below are some things you can do "in the moment" to help with a manic episode:

  • Remove yourself from the situation: If you are in a situation that is triggering or aggravating your symptoms, it may be helpful to remove yourself from the situation.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce stress and promote feelings of calmness.
  • Engage in physical activity: Physical activity can help to release endorphins among other benefits, which can improve your mood.
  • Talk to someone you trust: Talking to a friend or family member about what you are experiencing can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. In addition, it is common in a manic episode to not be able to accurately assess your behavior. Using a trusted loved one's input can be important.
  • Identify your triggers: If you can identify what has triggered your manic episode, you can try to avoid these triggers in the future.

If You Have Bipolar Disorder and Don't Take Medication

If you have bipolar disorder and don't take medication, you may be at risk of developing serious complications. Below are some of the potential risks associated with not taking medication for bipolar disorder:

  • You may experience more severe symptoms: If you don't take medication for bipolar disorder, you may experience more severe symptoms. This can lead to a greater risk of hospitalization or suicide.
  • Your symptoms may be more difficult to manage: Without medication, your symptoms may be more difficult to manage. This can make it harder to live a normal, productive life. In addition, there is some evidence that untreated mood episodes can become harder to treat over time.
  • You may be at a higher risk for substance abuse: If you don't take medication for bipolar disorder, you may be at a higher risk for substance abuse. This is to some degree because people with bipolar disorder often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
  • Your relationships may suffer: Bipolar disorder can put a significant strain on your relationships. If you don't take medication for the condition, you may find it hard to maintain healthy relationships.

Medication for Bipolar Disorder

While the above methods can help one cope with some symptoms of bipolar disorder, medication is often an essential part of managing the condition.

Medication can help to stabilize your moods and prevent episodes of mania or depression.

If you are considering medication for bipolar disorder, it is important to work with a mental health professional to find the best medication for you. Medications that are commonly used to treat bipolar disorder include the following:

  • Mood stabilizers: Mood stabilizers such as lithium can help to stabilize your moods and prevent episodes of mania or depression.
  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotic medications such as quetiapine and olanzapine can be helpful in treating psychotic symptoms and mania.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine and sertraline can be used to treat depression, although these need to be used with caution as they can potentially trigger mania or worsen mood cycling.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam and alprazolam can be used to treat anxiety and sleep.

Can Bipolar Disorder Go Away Naturally?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic, lifelong condition. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it can be managed with treatment. With proper management, people with bipolar disorder can live healthy and productive lives. If you are not taking medication for bipolar disorder, it is important to seek professional help so that you can develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."