Living better with borderline personality disorder (BPD)

How to cope with BPD, manage your relationships and work towards your goals.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common mental health disorder that affects a person's emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

A person with BPD may experience intense emotions, impulsive behaviours and difficulties in their relationships.

Some people with BPD experience thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

BPD symptoms can impact every area of life, but having the right support and coping strategies in place can make a big difference. Many people with BPD live fulfilling, healthy lives. In this guide, we explain how to cope with BPD at home and in the workplace – and where to get help.

How to cope with BPD

1. Seek professional help

The most effective treatment for borderline personality disorder is psychological therapy, along with personalised support. Working with a mental health professional can give you tools and strategies to cope better in your everyday life.

A mental health professional may recommend different types of therapies such as:

  • Dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT) – a therapy developed specifically for BPD that helps you live in the moment, regulate emotions and improve your relationships.
  • Schema-focused therapy – helps with addressing unhelpful patterns and learning how to cope with emotions in a healthy way.
  • Mentalisation based therapy – helps you make sense of your thoughts and feelings and how they connect to your behaviours.
  • Psychodynamic therapy – a talking therapy that helps you understand the deep reasons behind your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

People with BPD are more at risk of self-harming behaviours and suicidal thoughts. A mental health professional can help you create a safety plan, so you know what to do and how to protect yourself in a crisis.

It's important to attend regular appointments with your health care team, even if you're feeling ok.

2. Understand your triggers

Everyone's experience with borderline personality disorder is different. Understanding the feelings, thoughts, situations and events that trigger your symptoms can help you gain more control.

It can be helpful to track your mood, emotions and behaviours in a diary. Over time, you might notice patterns that help you understand your triggers better. Working with a health professional, you can use this information to avoid triggers, improve your wellbeing and develop coping strategies that work for you.

When doing research about BPD, it's important to get your information from reliable sources. Ask your therapist or doctor about reliable websites, books and resources that you can use to learn more about how to cope with BPD.

3. Make a crisis safety plan

It's important to have a plan for times when you're finding it hard to cope. Talk to your doctor about creating a safety plan that outlines your risk behaviours, triggers, coping strategies and what to do in an emergency.

A safety plan explains:

  • Coping strategies and techniques to keep you safe – things you can do before your symptoms become intense.
  • What to do if you experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • When to seek help – how to recognise the signs that you should reach out for help.
  • Where to get help – phone numbers and contact details of people you can call in a crisis. Such as your doctor, local emergency rooms and Lifeline (13 11 14).

Give a copy of your safety plan to trusted people in your life, such as family members, friends and colleagues so they know how to support you.

4. Create good routines

BPD can make you feel unstable and out of control at times. Many people with BPD find that a daily routine provides structure and stability, and helps them feel more in control. If you experience feelings of emptiness, a routine may also give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

Impulsive feelings and behaviours can make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle at times. Having a routine is a good way to include more healthy habits in your day and maintain your boundaries, even when you don't feel like it. For example, a morning routine of exercise and a healthy breakfast can help you get a good start to your day.

Here are some tips for creating more structure in your daily life:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Go to work everyday – or find volunteering opportunities, hobbies and other meaningful activities to fill your time.
  • Avoid working outside of work hours. If working from home, put away your work things at the end of each day.
  • Aim to eat three meals a day at roughly the same time each day.
  • Set aside time for rest and relaxation.
  • Keep up with your health appointments, even if you're feeling on top.

5. Look after your physical health

Looking after your physical health can have significant benefits for your mental health. Try developing healthy habits around what you eat, how much exercise you do and when you go to bed.

Look after your physical and mental health by:

  • Getting good quality sleep – go to bed at the same time everyday, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and create a healthy bedtime routine. Talk to your doctor if you experience insomnia or other sleep disturbances.
  • Eating healthy foods – include more vegetables, fruit and wholegrains in your diet. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about specific foods, vitamins and minerals that can support your mental wellbeing.
  • Exercising everyday – even small amounts of exercise can boost your mood and improve your overall well being.

6. Avoid alcohol and drugs

It can be tempting to turn to alcohol and drugs if you're finding it hard to cope. However, alcohol and drugs can end up making you feel worse in the long run. Many people with BPD are at risk of developing a substance use disorder, and long-term use of recreational drugs and alcohol can lead to additional mental health problems.

It's important to get help if you're using a substance more than you intend to or finding it hard to stop. There are a range of support services and treatments that can help you manage your relationship with substances. These include counselling, hospital treatment and rehabilitation.

Steps you can take to manage substance use:

  • Recognise when substance use has become a problem
  • Tell someone you trust and ask for help
  • Speak to your GP, a counsellor or psychologist
  • Find information from mental health organisations such as Reach Out and headspace
  • Develop healthier coping strategies with your therapist

7. Learn emotional regulation techniques

BPD is characterised by intense, unstable emotions that can leave you feeling out of control. Learning how to spot and deal with feelings of anger, anxiety, emptiness and dissociation can help you feel more empowered. There are many techniques and strategies to help with managing intense, unstable emotions. Speak to your psychologist or counsellor about techniques that are right for you.

Here are some examples:

Anger management

  • Remove yourself from the situation until the feelings pass
  • Distract yourself with another activity
  • Take deep, calming breaths
  • Do some exercise

Stress management

  • Use scheduling and organisation tools
  • Learn to say no
  • Take regular breaks
  • Try relaxation techniques like mindfulness, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation

Managing low mood and depression

  • Write your feelings down
  • Spend time with a loved one or pet
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Go for a walk or do some gentle exercise

Coping with dissociation

  • Do a body scan meditation
  • Check in with your feelings. Ask yourself, 'What am I feeling at this moment?'
  • Eat some chilli or drink a glass of cold water
  • List five things you can see, hear and feel

8. Stay connected with family and friends

Managing relationships can be challenging for people with BPD, but staying connected with people who care about you is important for your mental wellbeing. Feelings of rejection and abandonment can make it hard to feel stable in romantic relationships, as well as relationships with your family members, friends and colleagues.

Here are some tips for creating healthy relationships and staying connected:

  • Avoid isolating yourself – schedule regular catch ups with people who listen to you and care about you.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them.
  • If you feel comfortable, talk to your loved ones about your experiences with BPD, and encourage them to learn more about BPD.
  • Remove yourself from an argument if you're feeling worked up. Talk about it when you've calmed down.
  • Avoid jumping to negative conclusions – brainstorm other possibilities.
  • Try couples counselling.

9. Join a support group

Even though 1 in 100 people live with BPD, it can often feel isolating. A peer support group is a good way to connect with other people who have similar experiences to you, and it might help you feel more understood and supported. Listening to the experiences of others can also give you ideas on how to cope with BPD in your own life.

Ask your doctor about support groups in your area, or search online.

10. Ask for accommodations at work

Borderline personality disorder can have a big impact on your work life. But having the right supports in place can help you feel more confident about coping with BPD at work. Even small changes to your workplace or job structure could help you manage your symptoms better.

Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help their employees do their job properly and safely. Reasonable adjustments could include things like working from home, working part time hours, taking time off for mental health appointments or breaking big projects into smaller tasks.

If you're finding it hard to cope at work, a Disability Employment Services provider can help you access supports and workplace accommodations that are right for you.

Where to get support for coping with BPD

1. Your GP and mental health professionals

Speaking with your GP is a good place to start. They can work with you to develop a treatment plan, and refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health services.

2. Help for self-harm and suicide

If you are experiencing self-harm or suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately.

3. Peer support groups

Peer support groups can be a helpful way to connect with others who have similar experiences – and to learn more about how to cope with BPD. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or search online.

4. BPD organisations

You can find further information and resources about living with BPD in Australia through organisations such as the Australian BPD Foundation and BPD Community.

5. Mental health helplines

You can speak to a counsellor on the phone or over message by contacting helplines such as Beyond Blue.

6. Support to find a job or stay in work

Disability Employment Services can help if you're finding it hard to get a job or cope in your current role. Providers like APM work with you so you can access the support, services and accommodations you need to succeed in the workplace. See how we helped Kristie.

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