Why home life is important to your quality of life
A significant decrease in how you care for your household is important in three main ways.
First, increased messiness of your home can be an early warning sign that you are slipping into a mood episode. Noting this change in your home can enable you to respond more quickly to an oncoming episode and allow you to use the strategies described below to prevent it from becoming more severe. Research shows that there is a link between bipolar depression and decreased care for one's home1 Likewise, episodes of hypomania and mania can be associated with decreased ability to maintain order and organization in your home.
Second, if your home has become messier than usual, it may become a significant source of stress for you. Living in a messy or dirty home can be upsetting; it can make you feel that you’re not able to manage daily work or tasks and sometimes results in others negatively judging you based on what your home looks like. You may start to avoid inviting friends over and this can be a barrier to maintaining social connections, which in turn may be a risk factor for depression. Although there isn’t much research evidence about this relationship, our experience suggests that it's worth considering the possibility that a discouragingly messy home may contribute to depression.
Finally, there is some evidence that a particular kind of poor household management where someone feels an uncontrollable urge (or compulsion) to buy unnecessary and fairly useless items then finds they aren’t emotionally able to get rid of them (called hoarding) may be a sign of a manic episode.2
How you can take action
Taking back control of your home will involve setting goals that you feel you can follow through on. There is no point in setting goals for cleaning up your home that are unrealistic or impractical and will just leave you feeling more discouraged. If you’ve been feeling depressed, keep in mind that depression makes it difficult to get going so you need to set your goals much lower than you ordinarily would. If you would like to get the house cleaned up, your first goal might be to vacuum one room, or dust one shelf. When setting goals they should be: Specific (give a very clear and detailed description of what you're aiming to do), Realistic (set your goal to be easy enough so it's achievable even if you feel pretty depressed in the coming weeks), and Scheduled (set out exactly when you're going to carry out your goal to organize your home).
Remember to set goals even if you don’t feel “motivated” or want to. Motivation is often the first thing to go when a person’s mood is low. If you can begin setting household goals, following through and then checking off the goal in your schedule, you can gradually reestablish motivation or the desire to do something. But if you wait for your motivation level to rise to some level that you think is necessary, you might be waiting a long time to start your household plan. Act first, motivate later! If motivation is a problem for you in terms of your household tasks, it can be helpful to write out a pros and cons list of doing them versus not doing them. It can also be helpful to challenge negative thinking patterns related to household tasks, for example, all-or-nothing thinking, such as, “Since I didn’t start to clean out my bedroom cupboard as I said I would, I might as well give up. I’m never going to get on top of the mess anyway.”
Also be vigilant for hypomanic or manic behaviour symptoms in your home life – ask yourself, what are your personal early warning signs for elevated mood in this context? Are you, for example, starting multiple projects in your home, moving on to a new project before completing the one you just started?
If you’ve reached the point of hoarding items that you don't need, which are filling up your household space, you may need professional help in regaining control. This may involve treating the manic episode that led you to see all these items as critically important, but it also may require working with a therapist to get control of compulsive buying habits. Gaining control may involve alerting friends and family members so that they can help you to identify and react promptly to this particular sign of a manic episode.
We know that routine is really important for health and wellness in many people with bipolar disorder – are there areas of your home life where you can introduce routine and stability? Let’s face it, many household routines can be tedious or boring – the other advantage of having a routine for them is that these tasks can be a lot easier to stick to once a routine has been established. Maybe plan a small ‘treat’ for after they’ve been accomplished, so that you have both something to work towards as well as a reward!
Finally, be kind to yourself when it comes to your home life. Striving for perfection in your household may be unrealistic and stress inducing, so set your expectations a little lower in order to lessen the pressure. If you struggle with this, ask yourself: what are the real consequences of this task not getting done? Does it matter that much?