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Emotion is part of the human experience. It’s one of the things that makes life meaningful, but it can also make life challenging. If extreme changes in emotion are causing distress or dysfunction in your life, you’ve likely asked yourself the following questions:

  • What are mood swings?
  • How long do mood swings last?
  • What causes mood swings? Why do mood swings happen?
  • What is the difference between mood swings and bipolar disorder?

In this article, we’ll thoroughly answer these questions so you can access the best care to manage your emotions and feel in control of your life. 

What are mood swings?

Mood swings are intense and abrupt changes in emotions. A mood swing may feel like a sudden overwhelming sensation of anger that leaves you warm in the face with tense muscles. Mood swings can also be experienced as despair and sadness, a rapid upswing to a happy and carefree mood or even a sudden sense of shame and preoccupation with past mistakes.

Mood swings affect emotion, energy level, self-perception and motivation. They can affect the relationships around you in both positive and negative ways. They may impact school or work performance, or productivity in your daily life. 

Mood swings are common experiences. While some individuals experience them more often than others, they generally happen rarely, and a true mood swing may only happen once or twice a day. While their frequency varies by individual, everyone has experienced an abrupt change in emotion at some point.

What causes mood swings?

Mood swings are caused by stimuli in the environment that elicit an emotional reaction. Mood swings can be caused or influenced by external variables, such as pregnancy, hormones, pain, stress and so forth.

Mood swings may feel unpredictable when they occur, but they can generally be traced back to something that changes in the environment, whether it was an event, person or thought. Moreover, mood swings may be short in duration, typically a few hours and rarely do they last more than a day or two.

How are mood swings different from bipolar disorder?

Mood swings are characterized by quick changes in a person’s emotional state. People who experience frequent mood swings often wonder if there is something underlying causing these strong psychological reactions and start to consider whether bipolar disorder is the culprit.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is distinguished by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs and periods of depression. These changes in mood are more than just reactionary shifts in expression. Bipolar disorder causes severe emotional and behavioral changes that interfere with normal life. 

If you’re unsure whether your mood swings could qualify as bipolar disorder mood swings, you’ll want to look at three key variables.

  • Stimulus: was there anything that directly caused the change in mood? For someone facing a mood swing, there will be some cue in the environment that caused a reaction for someone facing bipolar disorder the stimulus is unclear and may be neurological
  • Length: if your emotions return to baseline after a day or so, you’re likely experiencing a mood swing; episodes of mania and depression tend to last around two weeks
  • Disruption: a mood swing may be bothersome, but a person will be able to maintain a normal lifestyle; for someone with bipolar disorder, mood changes may be dangerous, or interfere with work, relationships and normal living

Being able to differentiate these signs can help you or others determine what might or might not be bipolar disorder.

How often do mood swings happen with bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is best understood through episodes of mania or hypomania and depression. A person who experiences bipolar disorder will have alternating periods of highs and lows. 

The high periods can be identified by extreme energy, elation, confidence and attentiveness. These are called mania or hypomania (less severe than mania). A person may be extremely productive, begin new projects or suddenly become extremely adventurous or reckless. 

The low periods, or depressive episodes, are characterized by hopelessness, irritability, loss of enjoyment, apathy, low energy and difficulty concentrating. A person may withdraw socially, avoid commitments or fail to complete tasks at work or school during these depressive periods. 

The diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorders indicate that mania or hypomania lasts at least a week. Depressive episodes may last two weeks or more. This could mean that an entire cycle of mania and depression occurs every month, however, it may happen less frequently and a person may have periods of normalcy between episodes. 

Thus, the frequency of bipolar disorder mood swings may range from around every three weeks, to months apart.

Getting care for extreme mood changes

While there are some clear markers that designate the difference between mood swings and bipolar disorder, it can be impossible to completely rule out bipolar disorder without a professional perspective. Your best bet is to reach out for a formal diagnosis, so you can find a treatment that matches your needs.

If bipolar disorder or mood swings are impacting your full recovery, you need care that addresses the whole person. Find what you’re looking for with Silvermist Recovery. Call now and find true peace and freedom.