Why Mindfulness Doesn’t Help My Bipolar Disorder

May 16, 2016 Natasha Tracy

Mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. I’m sorry; I know advocates aren’t supposed to say that kind of thing. I know we’re all supposed to get behind the new, fashionable therapies and tell everyone to do them (but heaven forbid we do the same with psychiatry) but this is one that I think has some major holes in it, particularly for people with serious mental illness. Please understand, mindfulness as a therapy might work for you but here’s why mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder at all.

What Is Mindfulness?

Essentially, mindfulness is sitting in the moment. That’s it. It’s about not worrying about the future or the past. It’s about allowing whatever emotions or thoughts that occur, simply happen, without judgement, and then allowing them to float away. The theory is, if we simply look at the here and now, all the pain of the future and the past won’t hurt us, for the time being, anyway.

And if we live mindfully, all the time, then this manner of thinking becomes natural. When you eat dinner you are in the moment, enjoying each mouthful and, perhaps, are thankful for the food. When you talk with a friend, you are really present and aren’t thinking about what you will say next but, rather, are truly listening, in the moment, to what the person is trying to tell you. And so on.

And I don’t have a problem with any of this, in theory.

It just so happens that all this mindfulness does not one whit for my bipolar.

Why Doesn’t Mindfulness Help My Bipolar?

Mindfulness doesn't help my bipolar disorder. Mindfulness may be a hot new therapy, but as for me and my bipolar, mindfulness doesn't help. Why? Read this.It’s like this. If you’re being tortured by the past or are dreading the future, then this therapy might be very beneficial for you as it teaches you how to let that go (Mindfulness Can Calm Anxiety). If you judge your current thoughts and are troubled by them this may help as well. And while I am, as much as anyone, a victim of worrying about the past and future, this isn’t what causes the pain of my bipolar disorder.

The pain of my bipolar disorder is in the now. The pain cannot be reduced by sitting with my emotions and not judging them because that’s not where the pain is coming from. The pain is coming from bipolar disorder and not a psychological construct. Moreover, much of the bipolar pain is physical and simply sitting in the now of physical pain does nothing to reduce it (Treating Physical Pain in Bipolar: Neuropathic Pain).

It’s like this: if someone were hitting you over the head with a baseball bat, sitting mindfully, in the present moment, and letting your feelings and thoughts go without judgement doesn’t change the impact of the bat or the pain that it causes. My bipolar (bipolar depression, specifically) is like that baseball bat.

Stop Telling Me that Mindfulness Is the New Be-All and End-All of Therapies

A few years ago, and to some extent even today, the new, hot therapy for pretty much everything was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And I will, certainly, say that this is a very effective therapy for many people and I wholeheartedly recommend it. But just because it was in fashion, doesn’t mean that it could help everyone and just because mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is now in fashion doesn’t mean that it can help everyone, either.

In my experience from a group that taught mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, the people who this therapy helped the most were those with more minor cases of depression and those suffering with stress and anxiety. This does not surprise me in the least. If I had to pick people for mindfulness classes, those are the people I would pick.

And even if you have a very serious version of bipolar disorder, I can’t say that mindfulness will, or won’t, work for you. Only trying it will answer that question. As much as medications are mainly a process of guessing and checking so are therapies.

But my point is, mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. And that’s okay.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2016, May 16). Why Mindfulness Doesn’t Help My Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, June 28 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Edwin Wollet
May, 9 2019 at 3:57 am

Congrats, Natasha! I have been struggling with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder for 25 years. Elated for three to four days followed by suicidally depressed for three to four days. For 25 years. I've tried many, many things to curb these cycles. I've even tried mindfulness meditation. MM might work for some things, but if someone is truly bipolar, chances are very good that MM will not help their mood swings.

August, 14 2018 at 9:53 pm

Wow. Everyone is getting so worked up because Natasha said it (stay with me now) does not help HER bipolar and that it may be helpful to others, just not her. She doesn’t need to take down this article. While you think there are people who may be turned off of mindfulness by it, it is an honest representation of HER experience with it.
This article is beneficial to those who mindfulness is not helpful to. And may spark an interest in those who have never tried it. Its awesome that so many people have been helped by mindfulness and meditation. BUT it does not mean that you should come to an article about mental illness and an unsuccessful attempt at a type of therapy and BASH that person because they didn’t find it useful for themselves. Geez people. You are not going to change anyone’s mind by being forceful and rude.

April, 8 2022 at 4:43 am

I recently was diagnosed and this article was reallly helpful because I’ve had friends and family FORCING me into mediation classes and it’s literally a torture chamber if I’m going thru a mixed episode which I’m usually in this state untill my medications are at the proper dose. So I agree anyone that was mad at her, she is helped me a lot just with this article! Going through the mediation actually induced mania for me. For everyone else in that room I could tell it was helpful but for people with bipolar this is really a hit or miss therapy.

Robin Guy
August, 11 2018 at 6:33 am

I have bipolar - and meditation can help control the symptoms of this condition, some of the comments on this site suggest that it is difficult to sit during a manic episode? the idea of learning meditation techniques is to meditate during non manic episodes to learn the techniques and develop/change the brain so that a manic episode is prevented (prevention is better than cure) from happening.
There are many different types of meditation to develop peace, focus and self mind regulation, most people simple need to find the one that suits them and regularly-daily practice to develop brain chemical balance; to protect the brain from developing any chemical/hormone imbalance.
Types of mediation include:
Concentration techniques - focus etc.
Mindful meditation - observing and letting go
Mantra - positive self talk
These techniques can be practice sitting, laying down or walking; as in tai chi chuan (walking qigong).
This is the sadess and most negative blog for bi polar mental disorder I have ever read - do me a favour and close this site down as your negative insights do nothing for no one.

July, 11 2018 at 3:52 pm

Thank you! I feel very validated.

April, 11 2018 at 10:41 am

I stumbled upon this post and could relate to a lot of it. Don't get me wrong, I do acknowledge the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices. I have also personally benefited from various CBT coping skills. However, they benefited me most when my bipolar moods were controlled the best. Even when I wasn't manic or very depressed, I've had issues like anxiety that I've needed to work through. Much of the anxiety was not anything that I normally experienced, even during depressions, but as a separate issue, though one that did not always affect me to the degree of receiving a diagnosis for anxiety. Much of the main anxiety I've experienced was as a result of traumatic experiences from the worst of my bipolar episodes.
When I'm manic, there isn't a chance in hel* that I could sit in meditate. That would be almost laughable. And when I'm really depressed it would be laughable, too. How do you get a manic woman who is racing at 500 mph, often thinking life is magically marvelous, feeling I was the greatest woman since the virgin Mary, OR, so super charged angry that I was like the spinning Tasmanian Devil from the Loony Toons cartoons. When depressed, I'm usually so unable to even do more than go to the bathroom, let alone concentrate on mindfulness. So yes, when I'm not manic or depressed, I can benefit from CBT.
I do get some mood lability from time to time, and have had a history of temporary anger outbursts, but they don't define the usual me. In general, I'm a very easy-going upbeat kind of gal. Some CBT suggestions have been helpful for curbing things like road rage when a person cuts me off in traffic, and that's good. But really, using DBT or CBT when in the midst of major bipolar episodes? At least not working for me.

William Edwards
January, 30 2018 at 12:22 pm

With all due respect Natasha, I find your article to be terribly misinformed. Meditation is not some new fad. It has been around for thousands of years. No, it is not the cure all end all therapy but it is highly effective at treating many ailments. I have been diagnosed with bi-polar on top of severe PTSD. I’ve been through all the medications and remained a prisoner in my own home due to bouts of depression, mania, flashbacks, night terrors and violent episodes. Medication caused me to be completely useless rendering me dependent on disability benefits. Mindfulness meditation is a far better treatment for PTSD than conventional talk therapy and medication. There are also numerous published studies in respected medical journals that present a large body of evidence to suggest it can help alleviate symptoms of bi-polar disorder. Please do your research before you condemn methods that can help people. As a “renowned speaker” and “award winning advocate” people listen to your views. Your misinformation or lack of factual information is unsettling and irresponsible.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
January, 30 2018 at 4:16 pm

Hi William,
I respect the fact that you have had a different experience. This is common as we're all different.
However, what I said is that mindfulness doesn't help _my_ bipolar disorder. I say right in the article that other people may differ. My experience is as real as yours.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 9 2018 at 5:38 pm

I doubt your experience with mindfulness was very rigorous; you would've not said half the things you said in this article if you even did an 8-week program. Even the example with bat is a horrible example. I get tattoos and use mindfulness to be present with the pain and not let it control me, and yes the pain quite literally diminishes. It would be nice if you took down this article, you might put a bipolar person, who would really benefit from this practice, off from ever trying it.

September, 3 2017 at 8:13 pm

I do a lot of meditation, it has helped my social anxiety, its helped my ADHD, it has helped my OCD, but that element of BiPolar is still there. BiPolar is very much a "in the moment" kind of thing, its not sane or rational, its like a tiny electrical storm.
While meditating can help me distance my self from it, it doesn't stop it.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from meditation / mindfulness, but I would discourage them from thinking it will help them go off their bipolar meds and destroy their life.
With that said, medical CBD does a better job for me than anything else. The fact people with BiPolar disorder are still expected to be on epileptic seizures medication while people with epileptic seizures are getting access to CBD is really unfair.

August, 16 2017 at 4:15 am

Thank you for this article Natasha. I'm here so I can understand a family member's bi-polar disorder. The baseball bat rings particularly true and I notice the difficulty of meditation even when this person is in the room. I can't imagine the difficulty for the person actually suffering from bi-polar disorder.
As far as meditation and psychotherapy fads go (e.g. CBT as you mentioned), I want to suggest that bi-polar disorder itself may be a fad, from a geneological standpoint. I don't mean to say you don't have bi-polar disease, but it's interesting that 10,000 and even 100,000 years ago bi-polar disorder was not as prevalent as it is now. Same goes for chronic diseases like diabetes. Seems the interaction between ourselves and the environment has opened a can of worms psychologically.
If that's the case, I'm very optimistic about treatment and preventive measures because we can begin identifying things that trigger these erratic emotions. Again, this is all speculative and I'd appreciate your thoughts on the matter. How have you managed since writing this article?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 10 2018 at 10:10 am

Kevin! This is what inspired me to study what I study in college. I'm studying Evolutionary anthropology and psychology with an emphasis in neuroscience. I became interested in chronic and mental illnesses and how, like you said, they're much more prevalent now then ever before. Obviously we have the science now to diagnose more people, but even cancer is more prevalent here then anywhere else in the world. I 100% believe that people have a predisposition in their brain that makes them much more susceptible to these diseases, chronic and mental, and I 100% believe that its influenced by our environment and even just our society as a whole. We're made to believe that there's no cure so they can pump us full of medicine, while in other parts of the world they believe that the body can heal itself, which I also believe because there's proof, especially when it comes to our brains. What I want to find out is how in other societies, they treat these disorders, because modern medicine I believe has failed. We need to stop gobbling this idea that these things are incurable or unavoidable, because I truly believe they are. I myself have fibromyalgia and bipolar II, so you can imagine how many times I've wanted to give up. I'm still hardly managing, but I have hope that we can find a way..

August, 10 2018 at 10:13 am

Oops I mean that they aren't incurable or unavoidable. Lol. I believe they are curable and avoidable.

Amy H. Peterson
August, 2 2017 at 11:38 am

As a practitioner of mindfulness meditation, I think some "fake news" has been pushed out about what mindfulness meditation is, and what it can do. If you're in the storm of a manic episode, can you meditate for 20 minutes and get over it? Probably not.
But in a euthymic moment, if you start a daily practice of 20 minutes per day in a group or with the Headspace app, you will start to notice a differenct.
Just like it took a bit to titrate on your meds so they (I hope for your sake) started doing what they were supposed to do, it takes a while for mindfulness meditation to do what it's supposed to do.
After all, according go this Harvard study, among others: mindfulness is actually working to change your brain, fix those connections, add to the volume of your grey matter, quiet the flight-or-fight response of the amygdala, and create a mind that works a lot better than one in the sickness of bipolar disorder.
It's not meant as a quick fix, or something to draw upon in the throes of an episode, but as a daily or consistent practice that begins to fix you.
Will it work 100% for everyone? No, but neither do meds and therapy.
For those committed to a more holistic view of wellness, it's worked miracles.

Rachel Farina
July, 23 2017 at 3:14 pm

This is an important article. Mindfulness and CBT help me tremendously when I'm going through psychological difficulties. I have bipolar 2 and also some pretty maladaptive thought patterns and self-destructive patterns. I think it can be helpful for hypomania for sure, since irritability, anxiety, and impulsivity are the side effects. But depression? Well, the Buddhist principles of "this, too, is impermanent" helps some, and accepting the depression instead of judging it or fighting it, that helps, but it doesn't ease the depression as meditation can ease hypomania symptoms. Eating well and sleeping and exercising and even talking to someone are sometimes more beneficial. It helps me a bit, Id say, but I'm with you that it isn't the cure-all. I think a Buddhist/mindfulness practice as a way of life can put stuff in place for some, it has for me, but it's a bit more of a personal philosophy rather than a treatment for depression.

July, 17 2017 at 9:13 am

As a person with bipolar disorder type 2, and someone who is still new to meditation, that mindfulness doesn't make my bipolar disorder go away, and I dont expect that result. I use mindfulness to understand my current mood-state. I use meditation to asses my body and separate my true self from harmful mind-states. No, it isn't perfect, it's something that takes a whole lot of effort over a long period of time. But I remember how I was when I let this disorder ruin me, and I think the effort is worth it.

March, 24 2017 at 6:42 pm

" The theory is, if we simply look at the here and now, all the pain of the future and the past won’t hurt us, for the time being, anyway." That's not the "theory" of mindfulness practice. It's about recognizing, no matter what it is, whatever you're experiencing right now is a production of your mind, alone. It is not actually about alleviating pain, though that may be a by-product. It's about living with pain because life is sometimes painful. That's life. It's about living with everything the mind can throw at you and recognizing it for what it is - the firing of brain synapses. The attachments, or storylines, we create like naming something "pain" or "pleasure", for example, are also the product of a couple of tablespoons of brain matter. Maybe mindfulness wouldn't be beneficial to you. Also, maybe you are still unclear about what it is.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Maia Duerr
July, 22 2017 at 9:05 am

And yet we are comprised of more than 'everything the mind can throw at [us].' We have a body as well, and we are embedded in a cultural belief system, even if we aren't aware of it. Mindfulness encompasses all of thes as well. I'd be careful about proclaiming what mindfulness is and isn't... your comment comes off as somewhat judgmental toward the author of this piece who was simply trying to share her experience, which is valid.

March, 24 2017 at 1:50 pm

From reading this post, it seems that the people who taught this author about mindfulness didn't fully understand what they were doing. A mindfulness class where they only emphasize living in the moment is not properly teaching mindfulness. I would recommend taking a class with Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (he has online classes) or simply reading his book "Full Catastrophe Living". Unfortunately, in my experience most mental health professionals advocating for mindfulness don't have the proper training to do so. It's a therapy that requires proper training before you can teach it, just like any other. Of course, it won't work for everyone, but I would hope that people get instruction in it from someone who is properly trained in it before discounting it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Amy H. Peterson
August, 2 2017 at 11:32 am

Thank you. I know Natasha is very professional in her writing and advice, but as a practitioner of mindfulness meditation, I found her explanation of it reductionist and inaccurate. It's a practice you build up over time, and it doesn't have to replace meds, CBT, DBT, or any other thing you do until it's done its job repairing the grey matter damaged by manic and depressive episodes, trauma, and insomnia, etc. Harvard has studied brains and found that the physical cause of bipolar disorder in the brain is helped by extended meditation. It's not a quick fix, but can be a great tool.

February, 14 2017 at 9:23 am

While I do meditation (or breathing exercises as I term them) I agree with you, Natasha. When I am depressed they seem to be ineffective. When I am in remission they seem Ok but not great. But when hypomanic they seem really effective in helping my mind focus and go deeply within. According to personality theory people high on neurotic & introversion scales benefit most from anti-anxiety medicine, meditation & yoga.
So as you say they work in certain circumstances & for some people.

Tyson Hawkins
January, 25 2017 at 10:06 am

I totally agree that there is no therapy that is going to work for everyone. I have bipolar II disorder with dysphoric mania. I take Lamotrigine ( brand name: Lamictal ) for it, and it does a great job of keeping my mood swings under control, but it's a gross control. I still cycle a little bit each way, about 3 weeks on each side.
For me, mindfulness meditation keeps my thoughts from running away and agitating me or depressing me ( depending on where I am in the cycle ) in an out-of-control fashion.
One thing that was holding me back the first few times I tried it: I simply need more. One ten minute meditation session a day, while that may work for someone without bipolar disorder, it doesn't for me. I have to do it three times a day because its effects just don't last as long for me as for others. Even with that, stress can take me into mania or depression, but a 3 minute meditation brings me back.
That's my experience, and that is why I do it. Nothing works for everyone. Lamotrigine won't work for everyone either.
If you are curious, this is where I learned:
Good luck in with your search for something that works for you!
P.S. I read your book a few years back. I can relate to every page.

Victor Hugo
December, 5 2016 at 5:34 am

Hi Natasha, thanks for your post.
I don't have bipolar disorder, but I practice mindfulness to detect my own mood swings.
What I think mindfulness is useful to in bipolar disorder is to detect the mood swings at the very begining and be able to warning your doctor earlier and to change the medication if necesary.
It's very painful for me but I'm leaving my wife who has bipolar type I because I don't see how we can manage her manic episodes if she is not able to detect them when they are appearing. When euthimic I invited her to practice mindfulness wishing she can be more aware of her mood swings, and her strange thoughts, more capable of questioning herself, but she didn't want to try.
Please, in your experience, do you think that mindfulness can help you at least to be more aware of the mood swings at the very begining? Do you think you can consider to try to practice it in that way?
Thanks a lot!
Victo Hugo

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 7 2018 at 7:40 pm

In 2 yrs you'll be commenting on some new flavor of the day. Mindfulness is useless if u have a chemical imbalance because it is coming back anyway. Like Bukowski said if the crowd goes one way, go the other way. My word for CBT, etc is Bull!

October, 20 2016 at 9:43 am

I say this as someone for who does not get on well with all of the metaphor-based exercises in third-wave therapies but I think that it might be worthwhile considering a few things as to why mindfulness has not been effective for you. Firstly, there are several different schools of mindfulness, but mindfulnesss-based stress reduction seems to the basis of many of these programmes currently doing the rounds and I would agree that these were never designed for people living with chronic mental health conditions. Something like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy might be more your bag. But, also, you cannot have mindfulness without 'acceptance': e.g., aiming to live moment to moment, in the here and now, can be used to avoid facing difficulties in the past or in the future. Zeroing in on mindfulness as 'living in the moment' without acceptance is not mindfulness; without considering what you value in life it is also not mindfulness. Mindfulness is also absolutely not about trying to reduce your distress or pain, or change it, or make it go away (this is the opposite of mindfulness but is the function of CBT). It is about teaching someone to first face it and then build up a tolerance to experiencing it. The function of mindfulness in this context is to help people live with distress and pain and get on doing the things they value in life despite the pain.
I hear people regularly saying they are rubbish at mindfulness because 'their mind keeps wandering'....but if you notice that your mind is wandering then you are being mindfulness and the next step is to bring your mind back to the present moment. There are a lot of misunderstanding about what mindfulness is and it seems many of these courses aren't doing an adequate job in teaching the core principles. Simply focusing on a single instrument in a song is an example of mindfulness and this is an exercise that many people already do but don't know that it is a present moment exercise.
However, I personally think mindfulness (and all other third wave therapies, like ACT and DBT) can be highly confrontational for an individual ('you what? you want me to intentionally sit with my most distressing thoughts and emotions? are you kidding me?'), more so than something like CBT, and if anyone isn't ready to do that then doing mindfulness can be very damaging and counterproductive. Like with all therapies, you have to be ready for it.
My own personal view is that if someone wants to get rid of distressing thoughts or emotions then CBT may be a better option - because CBT is about changing how you think. If that isn't your thing, or you've tried that and it doesn't work, then maybe a third wave therapy might be better. I, personally, prefer ACT because it does a better job of combing present moment experience with living your life in service to your values and acceptance. However, I might agree with the philosophy, and understand it on an intellectual level, but still have difficulties working with specific exercises because of the extensive use of metaphors. But, like I said, that is my interpretation of the literature.

August, 21 2016 at 11:02 am

If I think really hard about controlling my blood sugar, will my diabetes go away?
Lets suppose I never got diagnosed with diabetes for a moment.
Suppose I didnt know I had diabetes, but then went into sugar shock as it is called now. The symptoms are still there, call it diabetes, call it an eating disorder, etc, it does not change the symptoms. I get a kick out of the quacks that think it's just a mind over matter thing, some of them even get a paycheck for pushing this (Hypnotists are notorious for this). Sure, I could sit and ruminate on how miserable I could be when I look back at life choices I made and the abuses poured on me by others, but it is not helpful going forward. I could sit and read all of the horrible aspects of people diagnosed with it and make myself feel even worse about the future with this diagnosis, again, not helpful.
I could try to find what else helps me (700mg of Magnesium does wonders better than my meds by the way) and pro-actively observe conditions that set changes in motion (which is a lot easier when you are manic and notice a cricket a mile away.) In my opinion, everyone is bipolar to a certain extent, some more than others. It is defined by certain "Symptoms" that we all have at different levels. The key is to finding what works for you and what you and your circle of friends/family CAN live with.
The most depressing thing I have ever experienced in my life was attending a bipolar support group where everyone was moping about the life choices they had made and pretty much lost all hope at having any semblance of a happy life. There is a living hell on earth, they pretty well defined it. If sharing your pain and draining others makes you feel better, great. Stand on your head for an hour every day if it makes you feel better for goodness sakes, and while you are at it, try to make better life decisions because they will always come back to haunt you even subconsciously if you do not.
As for those dating/married to someone with the symptoms, do not feel guilty about leaving. I am bipolar and couldn't live with my ex wife who was later diagnosed with it, just move on about your life and find happiness where ever you can. This is the big show, make the most of it, even if you know in your heart that its not going to end well. When you are old, bedridden and close to death, you will get to run through the re-runs in your head. "Cheer up you old bugger!" - Monthy Python.

Merrie Martin
July, 14 2016 at 4:22 pm

I agree with you, Natasha. I think it helps certain people, but not for me. My mind is going 1000 miles a minute and I can't focus. I can't even close my eyes for mindful therapy. I'm never "in the moment" because I'm fighting my BP every second of everyday, and I'm just trying to make it through the day, minute by minute. I've tried several times to do this and it just doesn't work for me. I wish it could, but I'm not in a good place right now either. Maybe when I feel more grounded it will happen. But not today.

July, 13 2016 at 8:27 pm

Hi. Also suffer from bipolar II (for 20+ years) and can speak from my experience. By reading the piece, I think whoever explained mindfulness to you is overselling what it does, and in consequence you are not reaping the benefits it can give.
Can it work as a *therapy* for depression? Hell no. Can it help you *cope*? For many people depression begets a cycle of "I'm depressed -> hell, I shouldn't be depressed -> now I'm even more depressed". Mindfulness can break this cycle and help one avoid compounding negative feelings on top of depression. Also, by allowing one to "take note" in a non-judgemental manner of a depressive state, one can more rationally organize their lives around it.
What it *cannot* do, and that's where I agree with the article, is relieve the pain of depression (specially if it is physical!). But if you eliminate excessive expectations, it can be very beneficial. I think when you say "mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. And that's ok" you ARE using mindfulness.

May, 22 2016 at 5:34 pm

I've been working on mindfulness for over 3 years and I just noticed that I m getting better at it. But I wish my therapist would have given me some ambien when I wasn't able to sleep because of of my racing thoughts. I think it just caused more stress for me. I didn't have enough practice to stay in the moment. When I m not feeling well mindful goes out the door, If I don't have the stength to move how can I have the strength to keep my thoughts in the moment. How can I ignore the pain. How can I ignore a husband who can't help.
The best thing to do is identify stressors that trigger bipolar and try to avoid them, exercise and pace yourself.

Mark Roseman
May, 22 2016 at 10:55 am

Good post. Like everything else in mental health, it's another tool for the toolbox that may or may not be useful, and I cringe when proponents (of it or anything else) sell it as "the" answer. You're right in that people who have anxiety (and like someone else mentioned, chronic pain) tend to benefit more than some others. Different people also take different bits out of it that work for them. For people who tend to get revved up easily, one thing after another until they blow, it can be a useful form of a "timeout" to reset back to a calmer baseline. Not as helpful for people who go from zero to 100 in one step. There are also a lot of people who don't necessarily have the insight to do CBT for whom mindfulness can be more accessible.

May, 21 2016 at 5:14 am

Wow have I understood mindfulness all wrong. All these years I never took it to mean being mindful of aware of your actions, reactions, triggers, etc so that you could better control your actions, especially during manic episodes where impulsivity is such a difficulty. Bring mindful of what (if any) episode I'm having and that it is skewing my moods and decision making/judgement. This, of course, held me to recognize and (sometimes) curb it check damaging behaviors. Or at least prepare for possible repercussions so I'm not blindsided. As for staying in the present? That's impossible for me, every simple tiny decision or thought has a long and detailed past and most likely a catastrophic future (in my head). How am I supposed to enjoy the present if it's going to kick me in the face? Thanks for the info. I'll definitely be reading more!

Liz Lalama
May, 19 2016 at 2:56 pm

I think it's definitely healthy to recognize what therapies work for you and what don't. CBT doesn't work for me at all and when that was the hot thing, I was really frustrated with counseling. Right now I'm doing a lot of DBT and mindfulness, partially because I refuse to do straight CBT ever again. For the record, my depression is NOT minor. Admittedly, when I was in the serious throes of an episode I felt like it was all just distraction and not helpful. But there is so much more to mindfulness than the simple "be in the moment" or "distract yourself" aspects of it that I was being told at that time and that you're describing. As I'm delving deeper into it I'm finding the individual skills that are a part of the bigger picture of mindfulness very helpful. I would never have found that out if I hadn't had accountability from friends and my husband to keep my going to therapy. I still sometimes feel like therapy isn't helping, but overall I am seeing improvement and I have to admit that mindfulness is one aspect of that. (Disclaimer: I'm currently having a good day. Ask me last week and I would have said something else. Who knows what I'll say next week. lol)

May, 19 2016 at 12:17 pm

While I fully respect your experiences with mindfulness and bipolar, mine have been a bit different. I have bipolar 1 with rapid cycling and take medication. I started to use mindfulness when I was feeling relatively well to help with some of the 'soft' symptoms of BP (anxiety, ruminating thoughts) I have found it helpful in the following ways - it decreases stress on a day to day basis therefore reducing the chances of me having an episode, it increases healthy habits in my thinking and makes me more resilient and it makes me feel happier and less stressed on a day to day basis. I'd encourage people with BP to give it a go but you need to practise it frequently to get results..

May, 19 2016 at 6:54 am

Did you know that DSM psychiatric conditions like “bipolar disorder” have no scientific basis whatsoever? It is just a ‘belief system’ that is ‘blindly’ followed by many people. Diagnosis of mental illness (various categories) is based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations (they use check-lists) – there are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays or any of that – there are no objective tests at all. Diagnosis made this way fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 12 2018 at 5:24 am

Nonsense. There are scores of neural imaging studies showing profound differences in the brains of people with various mental illnesses compared to those without them. Also, being aware that we have an illness or disorder helps us to not get swept up by it. It's when we forget that we start to be consumed. So your view is invalid and potentially dangerous. Please stop using the internet
Thank you.

Christian D. Larson
February, 17 2019 at 7:33 am

There are also scores of neural imaging studies showing profound differences in the brains of people who meditate and who don’t practice chronic negative thoughts and self-obsession. Your negative, limiting beliefs are the dangerous things.

May, 19 2016 at 3:19 am

Mindfulness therapy has been pushed on me for years. I've done it for years at the behest of my docs and therapists. I've practiced it everyday for I think about 5 years. It has helped in relation to my anxiety but when it comes to the bipolar it won't do squat. All that hard work for untangles when I get an episode. Because no matter how mindfully will it and try to control it, it doesn't go away. I just have to ride it out.
When I tell this to my docs and therapists they are never pleased to hear it. They think I'm either not doing it or doing it wrong or I'm not trying hard enough. Like I already have to deal with everything myself; on top of having docs and therapists telling me I'm not trying hard enough. These are supposed to be professionals who lift me up, instead they make me feel like a weak failure for not having mindfulness work.

May, 18 2016 at 10:02 am

Progress in mindfulness happens slowly, so you may not notice a difference for a long time. But little by little, you are cultivating the skill of not getting entangled in thoughts (i.e., not ruminating, proliferating, worrying, etc.), which is a wonderful skill that would continue to keep one mentally healthy. Remember that worrying about one’s 'bipolar disorder' is also a worry that can be let go of.

May, 17 2016 at 1:08 pm

I think you should practice calming meditation first, rather than rushing to observe thoughts, etc. For calming meditation, you can either choose to focus on body sensations for about 15 minutes of sitting meditation daily (in this meditation, each time your mind drifts, gently bring it back to body sensations), or you can focus on your breath (and gently bring it back when it drifts). After a long time of practice (perhaps months), you may notice that your attention is not always on the pain, but often wonders to other things such as thoughts. Studies have shown that mindfulness is also useful in managing physical pain. See:

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
May, 17 2016 at 1:49 pm

Thank you for the link.
I took a mindfulness meditation class and practiced for months and found it useless. But that's me. Other's may be different.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 1 2018 at 12:39 am

But what did u find beneficial for your case?

October, 1 2018 at 5:17 pm

Hi Abeer,
Many things have been helpful in the course of treatment: medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, routines, sleep schedules and more.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 18 2018 at 2:43 pm

YOU say "try practicing CALMING meditation" and Nathasha responds "I tried MINDFUL meditation and it was useless."
Someone needs to point out you're saying something else from what she's seeing. NATASHA, if you see this, read the sentence above. You didn't reply to what she said.
See that she's saying something different.

May, 17 2016 at 8:38 am

Bless you for this! It hasn't been helpful in any way. Bipolar cycles are not dependent on whether you dwell on the future or past. I know people mean well but what a ridiculous conversation.

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