Managing Bipolar Without Medication

Prescription Without Medicine: Mindful Management of Bipolar Disorder

Managing Bipolar Without MedicationMany of us have heard of mindfulness to manage bipolar disorder. Journaling and guided meditation are just two techniques used to reduce relapse into bipolar depression triggered and worsened by mindless ruminations of doom and gloom.

Buddhist Spirituality’s Link to Mindfulness

2,400 years ago, Chinese and Eastern Indian Buddhists used tai chi, chanting, yoga and meditation to attain awareness, practicing acceptance of what cannot be changed.

Buddhism hit Japan in at least 552 AD, although Chinese sources say the spread of the practice was centuries earlier. There are many schools of Buddhism in Japan, the best-known being Zen.

Doctrine, Not Dogma

Buddhists maintain mindfulness can be attained without Buddhism, while Buddhism is impossible to practice without mindfulness.

The goal of meditation in Buddhism has three purposes: knowing the mind, training the mind, and freeing the mind. Buddhists take responsibility for reprograming their thoughts rather than allowing external forces to shape them.

A New View

Symptoms, like rapid cycling bipolar or bipolar depression, cast a shadow over our perception of reality. It’s as if we’re wearing dirty eye glasses. We can switch lenses by choosing a clean, clear pair, so why don’t we?

Speedier Recovery

During a year-long relapse into depression I catastrophized constantly, judging myself and the situation. Terrified it would go on forever, shame and fear ruled the day.

During my last four relapses, I redirected my thoughts using mindfulness-based techniques. Along with adjustments to my medication, regular exercise, supportive diet and supplements, I was able to continue my activities and increase those I like most.


Typical of my depressed state I was disinterested in my usual pastimes and enjoyed them less. I was not to be deterred. Intuitively I knew I must keep moving.

It all paid off; I dug out of the darkness each time in four months or less, not a year.

No Doctor’s Appointments, No Drugs

The exciting therapies of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy, (CBT) integrate principles and practices of mindfulness. Just two of the goals are to improve distress tolerance and develop assertive communication skills; reducing anxiety and self defeating patterns.

DBT was authored in the 80s by Marsha Linehan. She struggled silently with borderline personality disorder while developing this much heralded treatment.

She publically announced her illness at the same time she presented her life’s work. Luckily for us, later years showed DBT had broader applications for mental health conditions than originally thought.

A DBT course is less time-consuming than standard outpatient treatment. It takes six months and a several hours a week. There is an hour of one-on-one talk therapy, occasional 15-minute psychiatric evaluation and group class, where DBT principles and skills are taught and practiced so the consumer can continue once discharged.

Evidence proves mindfulness-based, non-medication therapies such as DBT and CBT are effective for a multitude of chronic behavioral issues, including bipolar disorder, depression and eating disorders.


In DBT, patients are taught to acknowledge overwhelming feelings and to refocus on simple things, usually of an external nature. Something as simple as looking at the wallpaper or carpet can turn down the volume on negative thoughts generating painful emotions.

Next page: stress hormones and what we can control to keep stress levels down.

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