Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder & How to Manage It
Do you or someone you love suffer from extreme mood swings? Do you go through periods of extreme lows and times when you feel as if you’re “on top of the world?” When you are feeling on a high, do you engage in risky behaviors that you later regret? If this sounds familiar, you might be experiencing the signs of bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, many people downplay their symptoms, but denial is not the answer. When diagnosed and treated correctly, people with bipolar disorder can live productive lives.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder used to be called manic-depressive illness or manic depression. Bipolar is a brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood that last for days, weeks, or even months. People with bipolar will have periods of elevated or irritable mood, that can be followed by normal or depressed moods.
The elevated moods are called hypomania, mania or manic episodes. When manic, people are abnormally happy or irritable. The low moods can look like a major depressive episode. While depressed, people may experience extreme sadness, lack of motivation, and even suicidal thoughts.
Types of Bipolar Disorder and Their Symptoms
There are three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder.
Bipolar I Disorder
People with bipolar I disorder have had at least one manic episode where their elevated mood significantly impaired their ability to function. Hypomanic and depressive episodes are also common with bipolar I disorder, but not required for a diagnosis.
Symptoms of a Manic Episode
- Extremely high or euphoric mood, or overly irritable mood that last at least one week or requires hospitalization to manage it.
- Inflated self-esteem
- Getting very little sleep (3-4 hours per night)
- Overly talkative and speaking fast, which is often more noticeable by others
- Racing thoughts and ideas
- Feeling very creative and productive.
- Easily distracted by external stimuli or by your own thoughts, ideas, memories, or urges.
- Extreme restlessness or hyperactivity
- Risky behavior like spending sprees, sexual indiscretions, reckless driving, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs. These behaviors often have profound consequences and are what often catches the attention of family, friends, police, and medical professionals.
Symptoms of a Hypomanic Episode
Hypomania is characterized by less severe manic symptoms. They may only last four days in a row rather than a week. Hypomanic symptoms do not cause major problems in daily functioning like manic symptoms typically cause.
Symptoms of a Major Depressive Episode
- Low or sad mood, feeling empty, lonely, or emotionless. May be mixed with feelings of irritability or anxiety.
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Unusual changes in appetite which result in weight gain or weight loss
- Sleeping too much or trouble with insomnia
- Feeling restless or slowed down
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Difficulty focusing or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
Bipolar II Disorder
- At least one major depressive episode
- At least one hypomanic episode
Treatment is usually sought for the major depressive episode, since the hypomanic episode generally feels good and makes them feel more productive. People with bipolar II disorder often have other mental health issues like anxiety or substance use disorders which makes their symptoms worse.
Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Individuals experience frequent mood swings, with hypomania and depressive symptoms. Symptoms are less severe than bipolar I or II disorder.
Symptoms include the following:
- At least two years of high and low mood that do not meet the criteria for hypomanic or depressive episodes.
- During that two-year period, symptoms have lasted at least half the time. The individual has not been symptom free for more than two months at a time.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Treatment for bipolar disorder includes a combination of both medication and psychotherapy. Because bipolar is a brain disorder, medication is needed to help stabilize the brain and prevent the extreme swings in mood. The most common medications prescribed are mood stabilizers which correct imbalanced signals in the brain.
Therapy is essential in helping individuals learn to manage their bipolar. Things addressed in therapy may include:
- Learning about bipolar disorder and your symptoms
- Learning to recognize the warning signs of depression and mania
- Understanding the importance of medication adherence
- Learning coping skills for managing mood swings
- Learning lifestyle patterns that can help prevent future mood episodes
- Helping to build a supportive network who understand the disorder
If you find yourself repeatedly falling into the same traps and repeating unhealthy behaviors, therapy can help you develop a plan that keeps you on course and helps you live more productively.
Reach Out for Help with Your Bipolar Disorder
If you have already been diagnosed, or you think you might have bipolar disorder, do not ignore the symptoms. Denial never helped anyone with bipolar. It will only prolong the problem. If you are tired of the damage caused by extreme mood swings, now is the time to make a change. Call me today and we will work together to help you find a healthy new normal where you learn how to manage your mood swings.
American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). What are bipolar disorders? Psychiatry.org – What Are Bipolar Disorders? Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/bipolar-disorders/what-are-bipolar-disorders
Basco, M. R. (2015). The bipolar workbook: Tools for controlling your mood swings (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.