Finding out you have bipolar 1—a mood disorder that results in severe swings between depression and mania—can be a lot to take in. The good news is, there are plenty of evidence-based treatments to stabilize your mood and help you function in day-to-day life, including medication and psychotherapy. But implementing these new routines—even if you’re on the path to feeling more stable—can be a huge change.1
While your therapist is likely your best resource for support and developing coping skills, in between appointments, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself adjust—including grabbing a notebook and pen. Mental health experts say journaling, especially in conjunction with other treatments, is one simple-but-effective way to support your mental health by helping you process all the feelings that come with your diagnosis and adjust to a new treatment plan.2
Got a pen handy? Below, learn from therapists about the role that journaling can play in adjusting to living with bipolar 1—and how to get the most out of a journaling practice.
Journaling is a great way to process your diagnosis and track your progress throughout treatment.
Finding out what’s causing your mood swings—and what can help—might feel like a relief. But accepting that you have bipolar 1 can also bring up a lot of emotions, including anger, anxiety, or even grief. Expressing all these (totally valid!) feelings may help you feel less overwhelmed. “Journaling can be a great way to dump all your feelings about your diagnosis into one place so you’re not carrying them around with you,” Kimberly Vered Sheshoua, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in Austin, tells SELF.
As you process your diagnosis, journaling can also help you adjust to your treatment plan.
When you start to see a therapist, learning about your bipolar 1 diagnosis is typically the first step, according to Jonathan Westman, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Cypress Mental Health in Los Angeles.3 “Your therapist will talk to you about what your disorder entails, risk factors that can lead to a manic or depressive episode, and consequences of either episode,” he says. “That way, you can catch changes early on and take action.”
Journaling is a great way to track your moods and the things that affect them. As you write down your daily routines and how you’re feeling, Dr. Westman says you can gain a better understanding of what impacts you the most—and start to create routines that help you stay as stable as possible.4 For example, maybe you notice that you feel steady during the week when you go to bed early, but staying up late on the weekends causes your mood to fluctuate. Understanding the importance of sleep to your well-being—and tracking when you seem to need less sleep, which can be a major indicator of a manic episode—could motivate you to prioritize rest.
On a practical level, journaling can also help you keep track of questions you have for your doctor, or “homework” from your therapist. “Your journal can almost function as a second brain, so you don’t have to worry you’re forgetting about something,” says Sheshoua. “That can feel comforting in a time of so much change.”
Try these journaling prompts the next time you feel stuck.
The great thing about journaling is that there’s no one right way to do it. You can fit writing (or one of these journaling alternatives, if written words aren’t your thing) into your routine however you want—but that also means it can feel tricky to know where to start. If you’re looking for pointers about journaling as you adjust to your bipolar 1 diagnosis and treatment plan, try some of these expert-recommended prompts and see what helps.
1. Identify your feelings about your diagnosis.
After a bipolar 1 diagnosis, Dr. Westman frequently encourages his clients to journal about the impact the disorder has on their lives. “Consider how your new diagnosis changes the way you think about yourself and your relationship with other people and the world,” he says.