Bipolar disorder is a serious mental condition that causes major abnormalities in mood, thoughts, energy, and behavior—the kind of changes that cause noticeable impairments to your day-to-day life. We all have ups and downs, but people with bipolar disorder experience these in extreme states, called mania and depression (though they may also go for stretches when they have no symptoms at all). These intense mood shifts can interfere with personal relationships, harm careers, and disrupt your ability to just get through the day.
But bipolar is manageable. The right combination of medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle changes can help most people with bipolar live productive lives full of fun, meaning, and connection.
- Having high levels of energy and exhilaration
- Experiencing grandiose or overblown self-esteem
- Speaking so loudly or quickly others can’t understand you
- Not sleeping well and/or having little need to sleep
- Engaging in risky behaviors like unprotected sex or gambling
- Being easily distracted
- Being easily irritated
- Feeling sad
- Feeling lethargic
- Eating too much or too little
- Feeling worthless
- Having thoughts of suicide
But there’s always a confusion with regards to recognizing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, particularly when it comes to mania: Some people with bipolar disorder simply don’t realize what’s going on, often because they actually enjoy the high—it can make them feel like they’re on top of the world.
They have an abundance of energy, they’re more creative than ever, they’re friendly and talkative. They may even feel that it’s the best part of their lives. Mania has been described as being on speed without the speed, which makes sense: The same chemicals that are released in the brain from amphetamines may be released in the manic phase.
Experts don’t know exactly why someone develops bipolar, and there’s no one factor that sparks it. It’s likely a combination of some or all of the following:
Genetics: It’s unclear specifically how, but genes can play a large role, and bipolar disorder tends to run in families.
Gender: While men and women get bipolar at equal rates, women have a higher risk of rapid cycling (going up and down in mood quickly), and they tend to have more depression than men.
Stress: Highly upsetting events—like divorce, the death of a family member, or losing a job—can trigger a bipolar incident. Also, people who’ve experienced a traumatic event—such as sexual or physical abuse, neglect, or the death of a parent early in life—have an increased chance of getting bipolar later.
Substance abuse: Those who abuse drugs or alcohol are at a higher risk for developing bipolar disorder.
- Talk therapy can help people understand what’s going on and provide coping strategies to better handle the issues you face with the disorder.
- Lifestyle changes that ca e practiced include:
- Charting your mood. Sometimes specific things can trigger an episode. Recognizing these particulars can help you manage them more effectively—or even avoid them altogether.
- Sticking to a regular routine. Keeping to a schedule seems to help those with bipolar sidestep unexpected triggers for mood swings. Sleep, in particular, is clutch: Deprivation can set off manic episodes. A regular exercise habit can help too.
- Practicing stress-management techniques. Since bipolar disorder can be triggered by stress, activities such as yoga or meditation can help calm the mind.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an option for people who have intense depression that hasn’t responded to medications, or for those who can’t be on certain meds, such as pregnant women.