Handling Professional Conflicts With Bipolar Disorder

Author: Sam Bowman


Experiencing a professional conflict is never enjoyable. However, it is bound to happen from time to time. A staggering 85% of people experience workplace conflict to some degree. As someone living and working with bipolar disorder, you have specific obstacles to overcome when dealing with professional disagreements. Luckily, there are ways to learn how to navigate these tougher moments and grow resilient in and out of the office.

Unique Workplace Challenges While Balancing Bipolar

The nature of bipolar disorder’s cyclical mood shifts can make it difficult for you to predict success at work. Attitudes toward employees with bipolar can lead you to feel like you are more valued during your manic episodes and judged for your depressive ones.

Workplace stressors may also affect those living with bipolar disorder more severely, as well. Bipolar disorder can often present sensory issues, so a stressful work environment can be particularly distressing. Employees with bipolar reportedly even miss more days of work than their counterparts. This may be largely due to the perceived stigma and punishment for living with this illness.

However, you can seek out companies and opportunities that are more conducive to your needs. For example, the working world for someone with bipolar may be easier to navigate if:

● The company culture embraces mental wellness;

● Companies take steps to reduce implicit biases against mental illness;

● There are neurodivergent accommodations, such as hybrid work models or safe spaces to go for a brain break;

● Mental health resources are available to employees.

If you consistently don’t feel supported at work, advocate for change.

Handling Professional Conflict, Personally and Professionally

Even if you take all of the proper precautions, you will still likely experience professional conflicts. It’s easier to navigate these situations if you know how to prepare.

Effectively Taking Feedback

Constructive criticism is a prevalent feature of most workplaces. Unless you run your own company, you likely have someone who supervises your tasks or receives your reports. This person, as well as your colleagues and superiors, will come to you with feedback. It’s your job to be prepared for this to happen at any stage in your bipolar cycle.

If you are in a depressive state, you may take this feedback personally and fall into negative thinking patterns. If you are in a manic state, you may feel as though this person is attacking you and there is no way you could be wrong. However, neither reaction may help you improve in the workplace.

Some tips for taking feedback in stride include:

● Listening earnestly to the feedback;

● Recognizing your strengths in other areas;

● Going for a walk or taking a breather if things get too intense;

● Waiting to respond until you’ve reflected in a calm, balanced state;

● Following up for clarification.

You can even request feedback so that you feel more power over when it is given. This autonomy can be helpful if you are feeling particularly vulnerable.

Communication Techniques

Work relationships can be tricky when you live with any mental illness. Whether you experience self-doubt, illusions of grandeur, perceived attacks, or any form of psychosis, you have likely experienced the challenges of making sure your working life remains unaffected. However, certain communication techniques may help you maintain these working relationships without feeling like you have to hide who you are. Consider:

● Disclosing your diagnosis and symptoms specific to you;

● Advocating for yourself and actively trying to reduce stigma;

● Being honest about any current struggles you are having.

If your coworkers and superiors are truly supportive and want you to do your best work, they will understand and try to support you. This may change the way you communicate with them, including the frequency and channels. Whatever it is you need to work more efficiently, let the people around you at work know. If they’re aware of what’s going on, they are more likely to take steps to help.

Self-Care and Personal Growth

Receiving criticism or experiencing conflict can be a big trigger for someone with bipolar disorder. Feelings of inadequacy, irritability, and rage can push you to make poor judgment calls. Instead of escalating to that extreme, have some self-care methods at the ready.

When professional conflicts arise, let coworkers know you’ll respond to them in a timely manner after some reflection. Consider practicing some of the following self-care and personal growth methods to ground you during this time. When you’re manic, try:

● Pausing and taking deep breaths;

● Taking a bath;

● Getting adequate sleep;

● Accomplishing small tasks;

● Moderate exercise.

When you’re depressed, try:

● Getting outdoors;

● Drinking water;

● Cleaning and organizing your space;

● Leaning on your support system.

Above all, be honest with your coworkers about how you’re feeling. Let them know you need some space to deal with the conflict and will get back to them when you’re more grounded. They will likely respect that decision and help you facilitate a plan moving forward.

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