What You Need to Know About Bipolar Anger and How to Cope
Anger is often overlooked as a symptom of bipolar disorder, but it often accompanies both depressive and manic moods. If you struggle with this condition and find that your anger and rage alienates you from loved ones and otherwise interferes with your life, work with professionals to make positive changes. Treatment can help you learn to keep anger at bay or cope with it when it inevitably arises. Regular healthy coping strategies can help you stop anger in its tracks and take back control of your emotions.
Anger is not an emotion that people typically associate with the up and down moods of bipolar disorder. Studies show, however, that individuals with this condition do experience more anger and aggression, and that these feelings are most intense during acute mood episodes. With professional treatment, coping mechanisms, medication, and other strategies, you can learn to control anger and your reactions to it, even in the depths of a bipolar episode.
How Bipolar Disorder Affects Mood
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. This means it may cause a variety of symptoms, but that it mostly affects your mood: how you feel and react to your environment, your attitude and temperament, and how you relate to others. The main symptom of this condition is a cycle of mood changes, between depression and mania.
Depressed moods cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness. They make you feel fatigued, apathetic, and disinterested in normal activities. You may become withdrawn and struggle to find pleasure in things you otherwise enjoy. It can also affect you physically, causing changes in how you sleep or eat.
Mania as a mood is in many ways the opposite of depression, but it is still not healthy. During a manic mood, you may feel jumpy, wired, agitated, and even euphoric. Your confidence will soar and you feel energetic and like you can’t stop moving or doing. Your thoughts and talking may race, and you will probably sleep less. Mania causes you to get distracted easily and to make poor decisions. Some people experience a milder form of this mood, known as hypomania.
Mania and Anger
Anger is not a symptom that everyone with bipolar experiences, but it is not uncommon either. Mania in particular tends to trigger aggressive emotions and anger. The racing thoughts and high energy levels you experience can leave you feeling angry, irritable, and frustrated.
Those angry emotions, in turn, can cause aggressive and inappropriate behaviors. When things don’t go your way, or if someone tries to rein you in, you may lash out. A manic mood can make you yell at people, blame others, and even start physical fights.
Depression and Anger
During depression you feel down and sad, but it’s also possible to get irritated and experience intense anger. With depression and angry, aggressive emotions, differences are typically divided by gender and age.
Children, teens, and men are more likely to experience anger as a sign of depression than adult women. That said, it is possible for women to get angry or irritable when depressed as well. And anger with depression is more common than people once realized. A study that surveyed thousands of patients found that two-thirds experienced some degree of anger and irritability, and half of them described these feelings as moderate or severe.
How to Manage Your Anger
Most importantly, you need to get professional treatment for bipolar disorder. This is a serious mental health condition that is also chronic. To improve symptoms and stabilize moods you need ongoing care. A good option is to start with a stay in residential treatment, which will give you the ability to focus on treatment and learning strategies to use once you leave the facility.
Residential treatment is especially beneficial in the treatment of bipolar anger because, in addition to intensive psychotherapy and medication management, it allows you to focus on specific ways to manage anger, outbursts, and aggression:
- Figure out triggers. Although it may often seem like it, your anger doesn’t come out of nowhere. Certain things trigger this emotion, and if you can determine those individual factors for your anger you can learn to better manage and control them. Keep an emotions journal. Describe how your mood and feelings change and what is going on around you at that time.
- Keep stress in check. In keeping that journal, you’ll likely find that stress is a trigger at least some of the time. Anything you can do to reduce stress, like changing your job, adjusting your living situation, or giving up some responsibilities, will help. For things you cannot change, learn strategies, like meditation or exercise, that help you cope with stress in healthy ways.
- Practice immediate calming strategies. As you become more aware of your moods, triggers, and emotions, you will be able to feel anger building. Take steps to stop it before it erupts into rage or aggression. Try different strategies until you find the ones that work best for you: deep breathing, calming mantras, visualizations, taking a time out, listening to music, a quick walk, stretching, paying attention to your senses.
- Talk to your doctors about medications. Medication is an important part of long-term management of bipolar disorder. There are several drugs that can be used, and some may work better for you than others. Sometimes a medication that worked well for you in the past no longer does. If you can’t seem to manage anger, talk to your psychiatrist about the possibility of trying new medications.
- Increase therapy sessions. Medication is important but just one part of managing bipolar disorder. If mood changes and symptoms like anger are still disrupting your life in spite of your best efforts, you could benefit from additional therapy. Ongoing behavioral therapies will help you learn and practice the strategies that will make managing your emotions and outbursts easier.
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Helping a Loved One Cope
If you live with or care about someone with bipolar disorder, you may find yourself on the receiving end of angry outbursts. This can be hurtful and frustrating, but try to remember that it isn’t personal and isn’t your fault.
The most important thing you can do to help a loved one manage bipolar anger is to encourage them to get and maintain professional treatment. If they have not been in residential care and are struggling, suggest this as a good option. Regular outpatient therapy can also be helpful for anger and symptom management.
If your loved one is already doing everything right in terms of treatment, help them use their learned strategies for coping. Exercise together to manage stress; make healthy meals at home for better physical health; try daily meditation together; and help point out potential triggers for anger. You may see early signs of an outburst long before they do.
When someone is in the middle of an outburst, keep yourself safe but try not to back down. If you need to remove yourself for safety reasons, of course, don’t hesitate to do so. Use humor and a positive and calm tone to diffuse the situation. Suggest that they talk to you about what they are feeling and why, instead of yelling or being aggressive. Once they have calmed down, talk about strategies to use in the future to prevent or manage outbursts.
Bipolar disorder is a difficult condition to live with and one that impacts both those who have it and the people who care about them. Anger is a tough emotion that is not always discussed as much as depression and other feelings. But this feeling is a reality for many who live with bipolar, and it can be extremely disruptive. If you have bipolar disorder and often feel angry, talk to your doctor or therapist about what you can do to manage it better.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues and co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.