Alternatives to Bipolar Medication

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I’ve always taken medication to treat my bipolar disorder. But it’s not like I made a conscious decision to do so, which I realize sounds absurd. I was unaware of my many treatment options 13 years ago. And upon my diagnosis, I was in no condition to hear them either. I was a full-blown alcoholic who was also in full-blown mania. I sunk low and hurt many people. So once I finally began my journey of recovery, I was quick to do what was suggested.

But now that I’m more educated (& sober), I just wonder how, exactly, these antipsychotics and mood stabilizers have changed my brain (e.g. long-term side effects). My husband freaks out every time I approach this subject. Understandably, he’s afraid of the past repeating itself. But I would never do anything without discussing it with my psychiatrist first. Along with lots of  planning!

If you happen to have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ask your psychiatrist to go over your treatment options with you. You may still decide that medication is best, but you deserve to know what your options are. I’m not saying that either way is better or right. I’m just saying that we should all know our options when it comes to our health. The decision to take medication, or not, is a personal one. And rather than judge one another, we should support each other. Please, never stop or start any medication, including supplements, without first discussing it with your doctor.


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  • Psychotherapy:
    • CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a combination of both cognitive and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy centers on the client’s thoughts and beliefs and how they influence his or her mood and actions. CT’s goal is to change the client’s thinking so that it’s generally healthier and more adaptive. Behavioral therapy assesses an individual’s actions and seeks to change self-sabotaging behavior patterns.
    • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is particularly helpful in treating trauma and PTSD. Though bipolar disorder has a strong genetic component, it may also be brought on by stress. EMDR works to desensitize the negative emotions and self-beliefs surrounding traumatic events. These events become less significant while the client’s positive beliefs increase.
    • FFT (Family-Focused Therapy) was created to treat bipolar disorder under the assumption that the support of an individual’s family is vital to his or her successfully managing bipolar disorder. FFT educates the patient and family. It works to identify conflicts within the family that may hinder the patient’s recovery or exacerbate the patient’s illness. It teaches family members how to recognize signs and symptoms of a possible relapse or mood destabilization and how to prevent it. FFT teaches healthy communication skills and how to problem-solve together, as a family.
    • (IPSRT) Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy works to help people improve their moods by understanding and working with their biological and social rhythms. It is an adjunctive therapy for mood disorders. Its methods improve treatment and medication compliance and the ability to manage stressful life events. Further minimizing disruption in social rhythms and mood.
  • Light and Dark Therapy: Light therapy is used to treat depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), in which one uses a Light Therapy Box or Lamp to implement. It’s rather easy. They make portable versions, so you can sit under it while continuing to go about your usual activities. These light boxes mimic natural sunlight. But we don’t hear about dark therapy as often. Dr. Jim Phelps explains the topic in detail here. He says that making sure we get enough dark may be as important as sleep. And when we sleep, make sure that it is in total darkness. He suggests wearing an eye mask to avoid the rising sun coming through the windows. Also, he says not to turn on lights during middle of the night restroom runs. Yikes, be careful!
  • Art Therapy: Many of us with bipolar disorder are creative. This makes art-based practices a great coping tool and therapy option. Read my blog post about the healing benefits of art-based practices on mental health – Healing Power of Art.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: Increasingly, animals are being trained to be of service to individuals suffering from mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. But the positive effects animals have on us can be felt beyond a formal setting. Pet ownership alone can provide some of these same qualities. It makes us feel understood and is capable of restoring empathy. It makes us feel connected and provides us a sense of family.

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DRT (Dynamic Running Therapy)

5 Benefits of DRT (Dynamic Running Therapy) -by theSUNNYshadow.comI’m sadly coming to realize that DRT is not yet popular locally, as I’ve been looking for a therapist who specializes in it. When I Google DRT therapists in my area, the DRT therapist (William Pullen) who I referenced in the original blog post I wrote about DRT pops up. Along with that blog post and the interview I did with Like-Minded Magazine where I again mentioned it. And while I’m grateful for that, I also find it unfortunate. DRT could be of great benefit to all of us dealing with bipolar disorder. It combines traditional talk therapy with movement, but not necessarily running, and it’s conducted outdoors. So many of us need to get moving. So many of us could use that extra bit of sunlight (vitamin D). And during DRT, rather than sitting directly across from your therapist, you’re side-by-side. So it feels like you’re working together to find a solution, every step of the way.


  • Free Workbook: 5 Steps to Help Reset Your Circadian Rhythm | TheSunnyShadow.comSleepSleep may be the most important component in a bipolar patient’s treatment plan. We need to not only get enough of it, but also stay on a healthy sleep/wake schedule. Read my blog post about Bipolar Disorder and Sleep.
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  • RoutineThat schedule doesn’t only apply to sleep. Bipolar disorder is thought to be a circadian rhythm disorder, in which, our circadian rhythms are already disrupted. So we need to do everything within our power not to further disrupt them. Try to stick to a healthy daily of routine.
  • Exercise: There is mounting evidence of the benefits of exercise on mental health. Psych professionals are taking note and some are even beginning to incorporate it into their treatment plans. Exercise improves sleep, a chief problem in bipolar disorder. Increases interest in sex, which decreased libido is a common side effect of many psych medications. It improves mood, reduces stress, and so much more. It keeps the body and mind healthy. You should include it in your bipolar routine.
  • Meditation: Regular meditation improves overall well-being. It decreases anxiety and increases self-awareness, making you realize that your inner attitude determines your happiness. There are many different types of meditation. If you’re new to it, simply practicing mindfulness throughout your daily routine could give you a jump start! And I enjoy reading daily meditation books too! Check out my blog post titled, 10 Must-Have Daily Meditation Books!
  • Practice Gratitude“It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment.” ~Naomi Williams – I don’t know about all that Naomi, but I’ll agree, gratitude does a tremendous job of lifting moods and changing perspectives. Read about the Benefits of Gratitude and 15 Simple Ways to Cultivate Gratitude. And, join me every Friday on The Sunny Shadow Facebook page for my Friday Gratitude Practice so that you can #ShareYourGratitude and start your weekend from a humble place of thanks. Your friends and family will be glad you did (and you will too)!



  • Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese practice of inserting tiny needles into the skin at specific pressure points has been shown to offer some relief to those suffering from depression. It’s often used alongside other treatments.
  • Massage: Stress can exacerbate bipolar symptoms, particularly anxiety. Massage is relaxing. Though massage seems safe for most everyone, there are some conditions that warrant a discussion with your doctor first. Take a look at this Healthline article. And be sure to note the psychiatrist’s suggestion to get massages when we’re stable, not manic. A common symptom of mania is hypersexuality and the environment could easily become sexually charged, resulting in a regrettable outcome.
  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques or Tapping): I wasn’t quite sure in what category to place this. EFT works by implementing tapping techniques along the body’s meridian points. It operates under the assumption that no matter what area of your life needs improvement, there are unresolved emotional issues in the way. It can be used for just about anything, from chronic pain to depression. Some therapists implement EFT in their practices, but some techniques can be carried out on your own. Learn more about EFT.


There are many supplements that supposedly help bipolar disorder. And though they may improve depression, many of them also increase risks for mania. I didn’t feel comfortable including those here. So I’ve only included the supplements that I personally take and feel have helped me. Read a more in-depth blog post on the three supplements listed below: 3 Supplements That Fight Bipolar Depression. You may also be interested in NIH’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets. And do NOT start or stop any medications, including supplements, without first discussing it with your doctor.

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids share similar biochemical mechanisms with currently used mood stabilizers. But with our culture’s diet, it’s almost impossible to get the suggested amount. However, we can get Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of supplements.
  • Vitamin B Complex: Vitamin B-12 & other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood & other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 & other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 & folate may be linked to depression. According to NIH, the average daily recommendation of Vitamin B-12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms.
  • Vitamin D3: Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, including SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). And Vitamin D deficiency has been on the rise for some time now, with a society that’s indoors most always.

This list is not exhaustive. So tell me, what other alternatives to bipolar medication should I add to this list? What helps you?

Sources (not listed above): // The Art of Living // Comprehensive Therapy Approach


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