Finding a new normal to maintain balance in a changing world

Managing bipolar disorder during the pandemic
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Posted at 8:39 AM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 18:32:51-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — Working from home and self-isolation has shaken up our daily routines since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The pandemic has upended some people's routines so much that it might be time to create a new one, particularly for people with bipolar disorder.

Johns Hopkins University associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Dr. Dean MacKinnon said "if they're home all day, make sure you schedule some time for exercise, and self-maintenance, meditation, cleaning and things that need to be done, just to keep yourself on track because that can help regulate your mood too."

For people managing bipolar disorder, MacKinnon highlights the importance of getting enough sleep.

“Loss of sleep can trigger episodes, and if you're cut off from the normal daily routine, and your sleep cycle drifts, you might end up with insomnia and setting off instability,” MacKinnon said.

You can start a new routine by setting expectations to wake up with a plan.

“Don't go to bed until you have a plan for the next day, you know what you're going to be doing at 9:00, and 10:00, or whatever. it doesn't have to be ridged, but just some basic goal” MacKinnon said.

One routine many want to keep is their routine checkup. it’s why the coronavirus outbreak has many patients taking to their laptops for a videochat with their doctor, instead of heading to the hospital.

“Fortunately most of my patients with bipolar disorder have some video access, but I still deal with a set of patients who don't, using a to more email too with those patients just to keep in touch” MacKinnon said.

While doctors and patients try to manage care from a physical distance, there are some things which just can't be done sitting in front of a computer screen.

“Sometimes patients will have side effects that really do require a physical exam, patients on some medications like lithium, which is a premier medication for bipolar disorder need to have their levels checked periodically, that entails going into a lab or a hospital” MacKinnon said.

For those who don't require a trip to the emergency room but still need someone to talk with, Dr. MacKinnon recommends keeping in touch with friends and family or calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Warm Line for help, 800-422-0009.