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When “Normal Highs and Lows” Aren’t Normal: How to Learn Whether You Might Be Bipolar

When “Normal Highs and Lows” Aren’t Normal: How to Learn Whether You Might Be Bipolar Image
Susan Vachon

Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on February 4, 2022

Written by Nurx
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It’s normal for people to experience highs and lows in their life. Maybe you’re feeling down one day because your cat passed away. But then the next day, you got a promotion at work, lifting your mood.

In people with bipolar disorder, however, these mood swings are far more volatile. They can interfere with daily life, making it hard to maintain relationships and hold a steady job.

Understanding these ups and downs can be tricky. By learning more about the difference between what’s normal and what’s not, you can determine if your mood changes are suggestive of bipolar disorder.

Most Normal Highs and Lows Have a Cause

With the normal highs and lows everyone experiences, there’s usually a cause. You might feel sad because you had an argument with a friend. Or maybe you’re bored because you just binge-watched a popular TV show and don’t know what to do next.

These lows have a clear, definable cause. Other people, when put in that same situation, would probably feel the same way.

The same goes for highs. It’s natural to feel overly excited when you start a new relationship, move to a new place, or even win the lottery. These bursts of happiness may come and go depending on how your life is going.

It’s when you start feeling overly depressed or excited for no real reason, then bipolar disorder might be playing a factor.

Your Body’s Internal Rhythm Can Affect Highs and Lows

Life’s normal ups and downs aren’t just caused by external events. Sometimes, your body’s own internal mechanisms can play a role. Your body’s circadian rhythm, which is a natural cycle everyone follows from day to day, can affect your energy levels at certain points. The circadian rhythm is responsible for hormone releases throughout the day, body temperature, and even digestion, so it plays a big role in your mood.

As an example, most people have a circadian rhythm that helps them feel the most energized around noon. You may be more alert and sharper at this time, helping to improve your mood and concentration. Everything might seem a bit brighter and more positive because your brain is turned on all the way.

However, as the afternoon progresses, it’s natural to go through a little slump. Your energy levels dip, and with them, your mood. You might feel a little more pessimistic.

If you’re extremely susceptible to these changes in your circadian cycle, it may feel like you’re experiencing mood swings. However, this is a natural process that everyone goes through. It might help you to keep track of periods where you’re feeling up or down. If it seems like it happens at the same time every time, this may be due to your body’s internal clock rather than a condition like bipolar disorder.

How Bipolar Highs and Lows Are Different

Even if you’re feeling depression from a traumatic event or happiness from a positive event, this sorrow or elation typically won’t have a major impact on your life. After a few weeks, you’ll likely start to feel normal, and your symptoms will fade away.

That’s not the case with bipolar disorder. These highs and lows are much more serious and can have drastic consequences on your everyday life.

During high periods, better known as mania, you’ll feel so happy that you won’t know what to do with yourself. Unfortunately, this can often switch to irritability or anger at the drop of a hat. You’ll have a ton of extra energy, meaning you won’t need to sleep or eat as much. Racing thoughts are also common, as is distractibility since you can’t stay focused on one thing for too long.

But perhaps the biggest trademark of a bipolar high is the lack of judgment. You won’t be able to see the consequences of your actions, meaning you make risky or dangerous choices that can harm you in both the short and long term. 

Mania that lasts for a week or more may be classified as bipolar disorder. If it’s shorter than that, you may have what’s called hypomania — a less severe version of mania, but still more potent than what we’d consider one of life’s normal highs.

Typically, after experiencing mania, people with bipolar disorder then experience a period of depression. This period may last for weeks or months. Symptoms will be similar to those of major depression and can include things like a loss of energy, not enjoying your favorite hobbies anymore, or having trouble concentrating. It’s also common to have a lower sex drive and need a lot more sleep than usual.

Again, this isn’t just being sad. You’ll feel so low that you might struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Life will seem pointless, and nothing will make you happy at all. You may even have trouble sleeping, feeling hungry, or talking with others. Over time, you may get fired from your job for poor performance or lose touch with your friends because you’ve become so isolated.

Still Uncertain? Consult a Medical Professional for More Help

If you’re still not sure if your symptoms could be bipolar disorder, your next step should be consulting with a medical professional for a diagnosis. Even if you meet every symptom of bipolar disorder and you’re sure you have it, you’ll need a professional to verify it for you. Once you have been officially diagnosed, you can start receiving the treatment you need to feel better.

Keep in mind, bipolar disorder can also mimic the symptoms of other conditions, such as depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Only a medical professional has the diagnostic tools and experience to determine what problem you might be suffering from.

 

 


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