Ways bipolar can affect your job (and how to manage it)

People living with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood changes which can impact their day to day life, including work.

With the right support and management strategies in place, many people living with bipolar disorder have a successful and fulfilling work life.

Read on to find out how bipolar can affect someone’s job as well as practical ways to overcome the challenges.

How can bipolar affect your job?

During manic episodes, it’s common to feel energetic, motivated and confident. While these feelings may improve work performance, they may also lead you to overcommit or add too much to your workload.

During depressive episodes, lack of energy, motivation and confidence may make it hard to get out of bed and perform daily tasks, let alone perform well at work. Depressive symptoms can also present challenges with decision making, concentration and memory.

Unfortunately, stigma and lack of understanding about chronic mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder can present challenges when looking for work or trying to progress in your career.

Despite the challenges, many people living with bipolar disorder find that working is beneficial.

With the right support, working can improve mental health, provide consistent access to treatment and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Read more about the top 3 benefits of work for people with bipolar disorder.

Tips for managing bipolar symptoms at work

There are many things you can do at home and in the workplace to help you better manage symptoms and feel confident in your job.

Here are some tips for managing bipolar symptoms at work:

Follow your treatment plan

Whether it’s a period of low or elevated mood, it’s important to continue with your treatment plan and continue taking any medication prescribed by your doctor.

If you have trouble remembering appointments and when to take medication, try setting alarms and reminders on your phone or computer.

Manage stress levels

High levels of stress can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.

The tips below may help with managing stress levels:

  • Take regular breaks at work, even if you feel like you don’t need it. Use a timer to help you remember when to take a break.
  • Avoid over-committing, especially during manic phases. Before saying “yes” to something, get in the habit of saying, “let me check my calendar” so that you have time to consider your answer.
  • Use mindfulness techniques such as breath meditation to help you relax. There are many apps available that can help you make good habits around mindfulness.
  • Move when you can, as exercise can help reduce tension. For example, go for a walk on your lunch break or request a standing desk.
  • Seek support if things get overwhelming.
  • Take time off work to recover if you need to.

Introduce structure

For many people with bipolar disorder, having structure and routine helps keep their mood more stable. To help maintain stability, it’s important to try and stick to your routine, even if you are experiencing mood swings.

To-do lists, planning apps and schedulers can all help you create routine in your home and work life. Remember to set aside time for rest.

Keep a regular sleep routine

Experts recommend that people living with bipolar disorder avoid any kind of shift work as it can be highly disruptive to your sleep.

In fact, maintaining healthy routines around sleep can help with managing symptoms. Try the following sleep tips:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Reduce the amount of screen time you have at night
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening
  • Limit the amount and length of naps you have

Maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help improve your physical and mental health.

Things to avoid in your diet include too much alcohol and excessive caffeine. Your doctor may also recommend avoiding things like high fat meals which could interfere with your medication.

Exercise can have a positive effect on your mood and may improve sleep quality. It’s important to monitor your symptoms and talk with your doctor before making big changes in your exercise routine.

Should you tell your boss?

It’s your decision whether or not to tell your boss and colleagues about your bipolar disorder. For some people, disclosing their condition can help with managing expectations at work.

Choosing to disclose (during a job application or interview) means your employer can have an understanding of your needs in mind from the start.

In Australia there is no legal obligation for a job seeker or employee to disclose a disability unless it is likely to affect their performance in a role, according to the Australian Network on Disability.

If your work performance is impacted due to your bipolar symptoms, telling your employer enables them to be more understanding and make reasonable adjustments for you where possible.

During an interview, employers can ask a candidate with a disability for information about their disability to determine whether they will be able to perform the inherent requirements of the job. This enables them to assess any health and safety risks or to identify any adjustments to the workplace that may be required.

If you’re not sure whether it’s a good move for you to disclose to your boss, it may help to chat with an employment consultant at APM who can help you think through the different outcomes.

Disclosing can be a big decision. It’s important to know that you are not alone – support is available to help you find solutions that work for you.

Asking your boss for reasonable adjustments in the workplace

In Australia, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to help employees do their job well and safely.

Your employer may be eligible for funding from the government to provide you with the support you need at work.

Examples of workplace adjustments include:

  • Time off for recovery and health appointments.
  • Physical changes to your workstation. For example having your own office or facing the desk towards a wall to minimise distractions.
  • Reducing your workload or redesigning your role to help you better manage your responsibilities.
  • Organisational tools and technology to help with time management and routine.

Workplace adjustments are highly unique, and should be made with professional advice. If you need help accessing modifications in the workplace, APM is here for you.

We’ll work closely with you and your employer to find solutions that empower you to feel confident in your job.

Making a job change

Some people find that the nature of their job or workplace is not ideal for their condition and may decide to look for a new job.

Depending on your symptoms and personal interests, some types of jobs may be more suitable than others. Check out our guide to the best types of jobs for people with bipolar disorder for more information.

It can be daunting to search for work, especially if you have felt overlooked in the past.

If you want to work, there are job opportunities out there for you. There’s also support to help you find a job that’s right for you and succeed in the workplace.

Read more about how to find work with bipolar disorder.

What support is available?

If you are finding it difficult to cope at work or are having trouble finding employment, APM is here to support you.

We help people living with mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, to find meaningful work and succeed in their job.

If you’re living with bipolar disorder, you could be eligible for:

  • Disability Employment Services – a government-funded program which helps people living with disability find work, including those living with mental health conditions. When you register for Disability Employment Services with APM, we can also help you access ongoing support in your workplace.
  • WorkAssist – a program that can help you keep your job and succeed in the workplace if you are at risk of losing your job due to injury, illness or disability.

Register with APM today to get started or call 1800 276 276 to see how we can help.