Making a Living When You Have Bipolar Anxiety

Last Updated: 15 Aug 2019

Anxiety can take your breath away and make even the smallest of tasks feel impossible. How can you try to make a living when bipolar anxiety is stealing your every breath? I have found four strategies that help me keep anxiety at bay and keep the income flowing.

A woman at a desk appears anxious but determined. She is frowning, has one hand on her head, and has her other hand in a fist on the tabletop.

Anxiety is so debilitating. I can work much better when depressed than when anxious. Anxiety is so PHYSICAL! 

How does it grab my breath from me?
How does it make me SCARED of opening my computer?
How does it make the simplest task in the world take ten times longer than it should?!

A “Simple” Task

This morning, I have the task of sending a workshop recording to a transcriber. It’s not a complicated task. I need the transcription to move forward with my coaching work. It is integral to my future, and yet I have put it off FOR A WEEK! 

All it takes is a simple email to ask someone about their price, and then, when the price is chosen, an email to send a download.  It sounds so simple, so easy, but if you have anxiety, you know how the brain and body can make even the most basic task feel impossible. 

You would think I was walking the plank. 

My heart is pounding.
My vision blurs.
And then there is the breathing. . . .
What is happening to my breathing?
I can’t get enough air.
I feel light-headed and miserable!

I could go on and on about these effects. If you have anxiety, you know them well. Here is what I do to move forward in life DESPITE this horrible aspect of bipolar disorder that so many of us experience.

Change Your Focus and Channel the Little Engine That Could

1. I focus on getting the project done vs. the time it takes to get the project done. I don’t get to set deadline for myself very often. My brain won’t allow it. If someone else sets the deadline, like a client making an appointment, I can do it—but if it is self-created? Oh my gosh! My brain just won’t leave me alone! So, I face this and realize that personal projects will get done when they get done. The ONLY thing that matters is moving forward. I write about this system in my book Get It Done When You’re Depressed. What works for depression also works for anxiety and focus problems.

2. I let others know about my anxiety and explain that if they want the brilliant work I know I can do, they will have to sit with me more often than not. My brain doesn’t really allow me to sit down and work a lot when alone. That is simply my life.  People who want my work will have to work with me one-on-one at some point. I need the physical contact. 

3. I NEVER stop. I just keep going like the Little Engine That Could. I think I can! I think I can! It might take five years to do something that a “regular” person could do in six months. But I’m not a “regular” person. I have bipolar, a psychotic disorder, and a frontal-lobe brain injury. I don’t get to work like other people do. I know that if I just keep going, life will move forward and I will produce.

4. I focus on breath and moving my energy to my core. Management is all about breathing, seating myself in my core (the root chakra) and talking to myself the whole time I am freaking out about a simple project.  

You can do it, Julie! 
Keep going, Julie!
Just download the file, and then you can do the next step! 
Come on, Julie! 

And I got the project done. 

Tell me your story. How do you work through anxiety? 

Click here to watch a video on how I manage panic attacks.


PS:  Please note that not all breathing problems are caused by anxiety. They can be a medication side effect or an actual physical problem. Talk with your healthcare team about this. If the breathing problems are obviously because of anxiety and are accompanied by anxious thoughts as I describe above, then breathing can help calm things down. If the problem is consistent over time and not related to mood, consult your healthcare providers!

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at and

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