5 Steps to career success with bipolar

If you’re living with a chronic mental health issue, it is not impossible to find work.

Living with bipolar disorder and symptoms such as mood swings, impulsivity and depression can present challenges in the workplace. But learning how to play to your strengths and effectively manage your symptoms can set you up for a successful and fulfilling work life. 

Whatever your career goals are, these tips can help you get there with confidence. Here are 5 steps to career success with bipolar:

1. Develop and follow a treatment plan

Working with a professional to develop a treatment plan that works for you is essential for your personal and work life.

It can take time to recognise your symptoms, understand your triggers and find what strategies work best for you. 

Everyone’s experience is different. For some people, seeing a therapist weekly is helpful while others respond best to lifestyle changes and certain types of medication. 

As you grow as a person and as circumstances change, it’s important to keep checking in with your healthcare team about what treatments and strategies are working for you and which ones need reworking.

Even when you’re feeling good, you should stick to your treatment plan and keep your appointments. Consistency is the best way to make sustainable and positive changes to your well being.

2. Choose a career that plays to your strengths

Some jobs may be more triggering than others. Working in a field where you can use your strengths and skills and effectively manage challenges may help you feel more motivated and empowered.

Although everyone has individual needs when it comes to work, the best jobs for people with bipolar tend to have some of the following traits:

  • Low stress – high workplace stress can be a trigger for depression, mania and anxiety.
  • Flexibility – being able to make the most of manic states and take care of yourself during depressive swings is important.
  • Consistent daytime hours – shift work and long hours can have a negative impact on sleep and make it harder to manage symptoms.

Finding work that’s a good fit for you can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it on your own. You could be eligible for Disability Employment Services (DES), a government funded program which helps people living with injury, illness or disability find and keep a job.

Providers can help you with career advice, finding job opportunities, writing resumes and job applications, preparing for interviews and accessing mental health services. Plus, you’ll get access to ongoing workplace support to help you thrive in your new role.

Find out if you’re eligible: What is DES?

3. Talk with your boss about accommodations

Workplace accommodations are changes in your job tasks or workplace environment that help make your job more accessible and manageable.

Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for any employee to help them do their job safely and properly.

You don’t have to disclose your bipolar unless it affects your ability to do the essential tasks of your job. Some people decide to tell their boss in order to ask for specific workplace accommodations. 

If you don’t feel confident talking to your boss about accommodations or don’t know what accommodations would help your situation, you may be able to get support through Disability Employment Services.

Accommodations are personal to you and your needs. They could include things like:

  • Scheduled breaks throughout the day
  • Reduce distractions at your workstation
  • Self paced workload
  • Electronic organisers and organisation software
  • Days off for mental health management or appointments
  • Working from home
  • Part time work

4. Set up healthy routines

Lifestyle habits can have a big impact on your ability to perform at work and manage symptoms. Looking after your physical and mental health should be a crucial part of your treatment plan.

Sleep: Bipolar symptoms can disrupt sleep patterns, but poor sleep can also aggravate bipolar symptoms like mood swings, anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Set yourself up for good quality sleep by going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine, limiting your screen use at night and setting boundaries around work.

Diet: Eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your overall health and well being. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol and stay away from any foods that may interfere with your medication.

Exercise: Physical exercise not only helps you manage a healthy weight and blood pressure, it’s actually an effective mood lifter and can help you sleep better. It’s important to follow exercise advice from health professionals to avoid aggravating manic symptoms.

5. Learn stress management strategies

Workplace stress can trigger bipolar symptoms, making you more likely to become depressed, manic, hypomanic or anxious. 

Recovering from stress can take longer for people with bipolar and living with stress-related illnesses can become a source of stress in itself.

Avoiding stressors in the workplace entirely is impossible. But learning stress management strategies can help you minimise the number of stressors you encounter and know how to handle them effectively when they arise.

Try these stress management tips at work:

  • Set boundaries around when you work and how much work you do
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle
  • Be realistic about deadlines
  • Use organisers, reminders and calendars to help you stay on top of tasks
  • Take periodic breaks at work – get up and walk around to clear your mind
  • Learn how to be assertive about your capacity
  • Talk to your supervisor about your workload
  • Make time for rest and relaxation
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Try a daily relaxation practice like mediation, yoga or tai chi

If you’re finding it hard to cope at work, it’s important to reach out for help. Having a support team around you that you feel safe with can make all the difference. 

Whatever your long term career goals are, don’t forget to set yourself small, achievable goals and celebrate your wins along the way.

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