These changes in mood and behavior can significantly impact an individual’s mental, physical, and emotional health. If you’re living with bipolar disorder, you may be curious about the signs and symptoms of a manic episode. In this article, we’re covering the manic phase of bipolar disorder—its characteristics, risk factors, and treatment.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes shifts in mood, attention, and ability to function. These different phases are known as manic and depressive episodes, which are often experienced in succession. Manic episodes are marked by emotional highs, increased energy levels, and feelings of elation or excitement. Depressive episodes are characterized by low mood, decreased energy levels, and loss of interest. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 2.8% of adults have experienced bipolar disorder at some point.
There are three primary types of bipolar disorder, bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia. Manic episodes can look different depending on which type an individual experiences.
Risk Factors For Developing Bipolar Disorder
The exact cause of bipolar disorder remains unknown among mental health professionals. However, certain factors have been associated with an increased risk of the condition.
If you have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder, such as a parent or sibling, you may be at higher risk for developing the disorder. For many people, the first symptoms tend to appear during the teenage years or in early adulthood. Although bipolar disorder can be diagnosed at any age, the typical age of onset is 25.
Research suggests that certain abnormalities in the structure and function of the brain may be related to bipolar disorder.
High stress environments or situations, trauma, and alcohol or substance use are also thought to be contributing factors to the development of bipolar disorder.
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
There was a time when bipolar disorder was confused with other mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or unipolar depression. Today, however, clinicians have a greater understanding of the illness and can identify the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder and, in most cases, can effectively and safely treat it. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help people with bipolar disorder lead active and healthy lives.
There is not a medical diagnostic test, such as blood work or x-rays, to help with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, a healthcare provider can perform a physical exam and may order medical tests that will rule out other medical conditions that have similar symptoms. If other conditions are not found, a referral to another medical or mental health professional may be provided to help with diagnosis.
Episodes Of Bipolar Disorder
Highs and lows associated with emotion are usually temporary for most people. People with bipolar disorder, however, experience more dramatic changes in mood. These shifts are often referred to as bipolar phases or bipolar episodes. Mood swings related to bipolar disorder shift from periods of mania to periods of depression.
Mania is characterized by excitement that manifests as mental and physical hyperactivity, the elevation of mood, and disorganized behavior. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. During episodes of hypomania, mood and energy levels are heightened, but they are not “out of control”. The depressive symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are similar to those of other major depressive episodes. Individuals may experience significant sadness, hopelessness, irritability, and changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or weight.
Rapid cycling is the term used to describe changes in mood cycles where the person experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression within a 12-month period. This rapid change in mood cycles is often described by the person as feeling like they are on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Emotions may move from high to low and back again over a period of hours or days. During a rapid-cycling episode, the individual may feel out of control. Rapid cycling may have a higher incidence among those who have not been adequately treated for the disorder.
An Overview Of Manic Episodes
The way mania symptoms manifest, their duration, and their effects can vary from person to person. For example, when manic episodes occur, one person may experience feelings of frustration or irritability, while another may exhibit a decreased need for sleep, accelerated thinking, or hyperactivity.
When manic symptoms of bipolar disorder emerge, it’s not uncommon for one to experience feelings of creativity, heightened energy, or euphoria. Some people may feel they are destined for greatness or are invincible.
While the increased energy and elation may feel good at first, manic episodes can cause risky behavior and highs that may be difficult to sustain. For instance, during this phase, some people become more sexually promiscuous than normal while other people gamble or go on spending sprees. Some people are easily angered, may start fights or lash out at others, or blame those who criticize their behavior.
Some common symptoms of manic episodes include:
- Sleeping less, but feeling energetic
- Racing thoughts that jump from one subject to another quickly
- Talking rapidly (so much so that others may not be able to follow what is being said)
- Difficulty concentrating, easily distracted
- Feeling unusually optimistic or euphoric or feeling extremely irritable
- Impaired judgment or impulsive behavior
- Hallucinations or delusions (in severe cases)
Warning Signs Of Mania
Typically, people can experience emotional changes and move from one mood to another without difficulty. People with bipolar disorder, however, have more difficulty moving from one phase or mood than others. Recognizing potential warning signs of bipolar disorder is essential for knowing when to seek help. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following symptoms of mania that may be associated with bipolar disorder, consider consulting with a professional who can provide screenings and, if necessary, further testing, a diagnosis, and treatment.
- People with bipolar disorder often feel overly ambitious during the manic phase of the disorder. During manic episodes, productivity may seem to be much higher. However, as the manic episode begins to shift to a state of depression, it may become difficult to focus on the task at hand, leaving many projects incomplete.
- Manic episodes often involve extremely high levels of energy that may be accompanied by risky behavior. For example, a person experiencing a manic episode may feel that they can accomplish an otherwise seemingly impossible task. They may take on multiple tasks at once believing they can accomplish them without assistance. While their ideas may seem feasible at the moment, when their mood begins to shift, the person can feel overwhelmed and/or disappointed, which may cause the following period of depression to worsen.
- Manic episodes may cause feelings of intense anger, irritability, or aggression that is otherwise out of character for the person.
Treatment For Bipolar Disorder
Because bipolar disorder is a chronic, relapsing condition, it often requires long-term treatment. Treatment options for bipolar disorder include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.
The type of medication that is used to treat bipolar disorder may vary depending on the type of the disorder and severity of symptoms. Antipsychotics and mood stabilizers are common drugs used to treat mania. Always consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting or stopping any medication.
Psychotherapy involves learning about changes in mood and how to effectively cope with them. Therapists can also educate participants’ families about bipolar disorder and help them develop ways to be supportive during episodes. Psychotherapy also focuses on recognizing potential triggers for changes in episodes and ways to avoid them.
Navigating Manic Episodes With Online Therapy
Research suggests that online therapy can help individuals address the manic and depressive phases of bipolar disorder. In one broad-based systematic review, which included literature from 12 different studies, researchers concluded that online therapy is a “highly feasible and acceptable method” of providing care for bipolar disorder. The review also notes the ability of online therapy to bridge the treatment gap that exists in mental health care, providing convenient solutions to people who may not otherwise be able to connect with therapists.
You don’t have address the symptoms of mania on your own. Working with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can learn more about bipolar disorder from the comfort of home, which can be helpful if a manic episode makes leaving home difficult. Online therapy is also an affordable option—BetterHelp registration start at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime.
What is the manic phase of bipolar disorder like?
The bipolar manic phase can look different for everyone, particularly between people who live with bipolar I disorder vs. bipolar II disorder. Some may feel that they experience extreme mania or they may feel as if they only get a slight rush of energy that breaks through the depressive fog.
Common mania symptoms can include:
- Feeling unusually energetic, happy, or egotistical
- Feeling frenetic, hurried, or distracted
- Experiencing an irritable mood or feeling unusually angry
- Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
- Taking risks that you may not usually take
If you are experiencing symptoms of mania and live with bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder, you may find benefit from taking a mood stabilizer or engaging in talk therapy. Your allied care team may also find other treatments that can be effective during times of mania or extreme mood swings.
How do you know if you're manic?
Mania can feel different on a person-by-person basis. For example: Someone living with bipolar I disorder may experience more severe “highs” and symptoms of mania — like severe mood swings — compared to someone experiencing the effects of bipolar II disorder, as bipolar II disorder mood disturbance events are peer-reported to be less severe on average.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of mania as a result of bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions, you may benefit from talk therapy or other supportive strategies.
What is a bipolar manic episode?
A bipolar manic episode can be signaled by the absence of a depressed mood, extreme “highs”, and risky behavior for many people.
We do want to note: Risk is a subjective definitive term for many, and behaviors in this category can range from taking recreational drugs (when you otherwise wouldn’t) to having unsafe sexual encounters. Some may feel that they experience psychotic symptoms, or symptoms of psychosis (such as hallucinations and delusions) as well.
If you believe that you are experiencing a bipolar manic episode but are not formally diagnosed, you may wish to speak with your medical practitioner. They can review your medical history, the history of your family members (known as a family history) and other factors that can contribute to a formal bipolar disorder diagnosis.
What are the 4 stages of mania?
Experts suggest that there are four primary stages of mania: hypomania, acute, delusional, and delirious mania. We’ve briefly explained each hypothesized stage below:
- Acute: Acute mania is suggested to be associated with energetic moods, which can swing to irritation or hyperactivity over time.
- Hypomania: People experiencing this proposed stage of hypomania may feel exceedingly happy with no known cause.
- Delusional: People living with this manic experience may experience delusions that preclude the delirious form of mania.
- Delirious: For many, this subtype of mania indicates the presence of hallucinations that can confuse the person experiencing them.
After the proposed stages of the mania_ cycle, scientists and experts suggest that someone living with the condition may fall into a depressed mood. The depression associated with bipolar disorder is generally more intense than with other types (such as seasonal affective disorder) and may require professional intervention to correct.
How do you calm a manic episode?
If you are experiencing a manic episode, it can feel overwhelming. You might try the following suggestions to calm a manic episode:
- Avoid excessive stimulation (such as you’d find from a smart device or entertainment)
- Work on calming or self-care-related activities
- Hydrate and nourish yourself
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
Does a bipolar person know they are bipolar?
Generally, those who live with bipolar disorder know that they have the disorder. The degrees of awareness may vary depending on peoples’ experiences. They may just know that they have cycling symptoms, or they may have received a formal diagnosis.
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