Meaning Of "Manic"

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Bipolar disorder, once called “manic depression,” is often characterized as a disorder, meaning extremes with mood swings between intense highs (mania) and lows (depression). Although many people understand that bipolar disorder can cause a person to fluctuate between these two states, fewer are aware of what the symptoms of each can look like. 

One of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder is the presence of mania. Learning to identify and understand mania may help you pinpoint signs of it in yourself or others so that you can take the next steps to get help.

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Are you experiencing signs of mania or hypomania?

An overview of bipolar disorder (manic depression)

Bipolar disorder—previously called manic depression—is a mental health condition characterized by periods of abnormally elevated or low mood. These phases, called manic episodes and depressive episodes, can look different depending on which subtype of bipolar disorder an individual is experiencing. The three subtypes of bipolar disorder are bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymia. 

Bipolar I disorder

For a medical or mental health professional to diagnose bipolar I disorder, an individual typically must experience at least one manic episode. Manic episodes are periods of at least one week during which an elevated mood and heightened energy levels are present more often than not and occur almost every day. While a depressive episode occurs in most cases of bipolar I, the presence of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. In some cases, an individual living with bipolar I disorder may experience what is called unipolar mania, which is marked by an absence of depressive symptoms. 

Bipolar II disorder

Unlike bipolar I disorder, at least one depressive episode must have occurred for bipolar II disorder to be diagnosed. Depressive episodes are periods of abnormally low mood characterized by a lack of energy, loss of interest in activities, sleep disruptions, appetite changes, and a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness. Additionally, there must have been an episode of hypomania, which is a less severe form of the manic episodes present in bipolar I disorder. Most people with bipolar II disorder experience more depressive than hypomanic symptoms. 

Cyclothymia

In cyclothymia, symptoms of both hypomania and depression are present, but they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for hypomanic or depressive episodes. With cyclothymia, shifts in mood may occur more frequently, and symptoms may worsen over time, potentially leading to the development of bipolar I or II.  

Though the exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown, genetics and alterations in brain structure and function are thought to be primary contributors. Along with these potential causes, several factors may influence the development of the condition, including having family members with mood disorders, using recreational drugs, or living with a commonly comorbid mental health or medical condition (e.g., autoimmune thyroid disease). Other triggers can include stressful events, sleep disruptions, and the use of certain medications. 

Definition

Mania, when applied to bipolar disorder, is typically a state characterized by feelings of extreme highs. A person may feel active or jumpy, have more energy than normal, talk quickly about multiple topics, and feel especially important or powerful.

What differentiates a “normal” energy level and manic energy, though, is generally the degree to which the change in your mental state affects you and your ability to carry out daily life. Mania is not merely a temporary high. It is often accompanied by sleeplessness, exaggerated or aggressive speech patterns, a frenzy of activity, and an inability to “turn off,” so to speak.

Mania as an official symptom of bipolar disorder can therefore be defined as a period of time in which mental activity is at a peak. While it may sound harmless on the surface, this extreme type of functioning can involve hyperactivity, risky behavior, delusions, or hallucinations, among other things. Partly due to the potential severity of manic symptoms, premature death is six times more common in individuals with bipolar disorder than the general population. 

However, not all instances of bipolar disorder-induced manic episodes involve enormous outward expressions of distress. Many people who are experiencing manic episodes can feel excited, happy, or mildly euphoric, resulting in increased productivity, excitement, and a seemingly positive outlook on life. This is often the case with hypomania. Although the symptoms tend to be less severe, the loved ones of a person with hypomania may still notice a shift in the person’s mood, which may be important for seeking help to prevent a more serious episode of mania or depression. Plus, the instability that fluctuating in and out of mania can cause may carry consequences for performance at work, maintaining healthy relationships, and feeling able to achieve goals in life.

Signs of a manic episode

Mania and hypomania are experiences based on the same set of symptoms that vary in their severity. These basic symptoms include:

  • Grandiose feelings. Grandiose feelings are any feelings that involve an inflated sense of self or skill. In hypomania associated with bipolar disorder, grandiose feelings might be slight, such as feeling that you can take on more than you are realistically able to take on.
  • Decreased need for sleep. Changes in sleep behavior are often present in all types of bipolar disorder, whether they are related to mania or depression. In light episodes, individuals experiencing mania might simply feel as though they are immune to the need for eight hours of sleep. While still feeling rested, they may sleep only two or three hours for a few days at a time. More severe episodes may cause a total lack of sleep, which may lead to hospitalization.
  • Racing thoughts. In manic and hypomanic episodes, a person may feel as though their thoughts are moving so quickly that focusing and following the flow of conversations can seem impossible.
  • Rapid or disjointed speech. As a consequence of rapid thoughts, rapid speech may develop during a manic episode. Initially, rapid speech might manifest as speaking more quickly than is typical, but speech might come so quickly that thoughts and ideas are disjointed and indiscernible.
  • Risky behavior. During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder might find themselves making unwise or dangerous financial, romantic, physical, and medical decisions. Mania can encourage individuals to shed inhibitions that are normally present and engage in reckless behavior that may lead to serious negative consequences. For example, they may go on buying sprees, gamble excessively, or otherwise risk losing money rapidly. 
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Am I manic?

If you are experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms, it is possible you are experiencing a period of mania. With bipolar disorder, these periods tend to alternate with depression episodes. 

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, indifference, or numbness. A person with these symptoms may also feel a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Irritability. Although lesser known than sadness, irritability can be a common symptom of depression and bipolar disorder. Not getting enough sleep and feeling stressed by emotional changes may lead a person to feel irritable or even angry.
  • Fatigue. People experiencing a depressive episode might find themselves struggling to make it through the day without taking a nap. They may feel tired no matter how much sleep they get.
  • Appetite changes. Eating more or less than usual may accompany depressive episodes, as can the changes in a person’s weight that can come as a result.
  • Thoughts of self-harm. Depression can trigger or increase thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

If both mania and depression feel familiar to you, you may be experiencing bipolar disorder. Even if you’re unsure about whether bipolar disorder is the right label for your symptoms, it may help to seek a professional opinion.

Managing symptoms of bipolar disorder 

Although bipolar disorder can seem to take over your life, it is generally a treatable condition. Many individuals who experience bipolar disorder can go on to lead stable, fulfilling lives. The key to this may be receiving the right treatment. Treatment typically comprises medications and psychotherapy. Common drugs used to treat bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers, like lithium; antipsychotics, like risperidone (commonly used for individuals with symptoms of psychosis); and antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Always consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting or stopping any medication. Additionally, eating a balanced diet, exercising, getting restful sleep, and engaging in other forms of self-care can help individuals manage core symptoms and related effects (e.g., stress) of the disorder.  

In addition to speaking with a doctor or psychiatrist to receive a diagnosis and any medical treatment you may need, it may help to seek the support of a licensed therapist. If you don’t feel well enough to visit a therapist’s office, you might benefit from online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can typically be matched with a licensed therapist within 48 hours, and you can communicate with them via live chat, phone, or videoconferencing from the comfort of your home or anywhere with an internet connection.

Online therapy has been shown by multiple peer-reviewed studies to be effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders. One study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective for bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and substance use disorder, among other conditions.

Getty/AnnaStills
Are you experiencing signs of mania or hypomania?

Takeaway

The signs of mania can vary from person to person but may include abnormally high energy levels, racing thoughts, a lack of need for sleep, and flight of ideas. If you’re experiencing these or other symptoms, you don’t have to face them alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience helping people with manic episodes and bipolar disorder. Take the first step toward getting help with your symptoms and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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