Everyone gets angry. It is a normal human emotion, but if you are bipolar the outbursts can be more common, more intense, and harder to control.
However, it is not diagnosed as a symptom of bipolar disorder. Instead, anger can be associated with psychomotor agitation, which is one of the diagnostic criteria.
However, the fact that poor anger control is not specified as a symptom of Bipolar Disorder can leave you feeling lost and alone, especially if you’ve taken your rage out on the people you depend on for support.
Recent studies are helping to change the misconception that bipolar disorder and anger issues are not linked. One published on the PubMed.gov website stated,
“Subjects with bipolar disorder display greater rates of anger and aggressive behaviors, especially during acute and psychotic episodes”.
The study doesn’t specifically state that if you are bipolar anger will be a problem, but it does let you know that you’re not the only one that might be dealing with outbursts of rage.1
What is Bipolar Anger?
It is important not to confuse occasional flashes of temper with bipolar anger.
Like the term implies, temper flashes are short and over in a few minutes. Bipolar anger can simmer for days, eventually leading to outbursts of rage that can have destructive consequences. Relationships can suffer, and if the burst of bipolar rage happens at work it can have a negative impact on your career.
How Bipolar Disorder and Anger are Linked
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood. Sometimes you seem to be happy and have endless energy, and then the next thing you know it’s almost impossible to get out of bed. The depression and despair can be that debilitating.
These mood swings are referred to as manic and depressive episodes, and are the two key signs of bipolar disorder. In many cases, people with Bipolar Disorder will have both manic and depressive episodes; however, some people only have manic episodes. According to the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder, you can experience manic episodes, and no depressive episodes, and still meet criteria for Bipolar I Disorder.
What researchers are finding is that the symptoms associated with mania and depression might be linked to bipolar irritability and rage.
During bipolar mania restlessness (i.e., psychomotor agitation) is a common symptom. This coupled with, decreased need for and lack of sleep can easily lead to irritability and short tempers. If you’re prone to risky behaviors during a manic episode, being told “no” by your support team can be enough to send you into bipolar rage.
Bipolar depression can also leave you feeling irritable, especially when you’ve lost interest in everything. When you are angry and disappointed in yourself, it’s easier to take it out on the people around you.
While this really isn’t any different than how people without a mood disorder often behave, if you’re bipolar the outbursts can be more frequent, intense and harder to control.
Thanks to recent and ongoing studies, mental health professionals are beginning to realize that problems with anger and irritability might be more closely linked to bipolar disorder than previously thought. This will hopefully lead to more comprehensive treatment plans.2
Can Medication Cause Bipolar Anger?
If you’re wondering if medication is causing your bipolar anger issues, you’re not alone. It’s a common question, without an easy “yes” or “no” answer.
Part of a bipolar treatment plan typically includes mood stabilizers that are designed to help with the chemical imbalance that initially led to the onset of the disorder. Lithium is one of the most common bipolar disorder medication prescribed, and it does not list anger or irritability among the possible side effects.
The side effects that are listed include,
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to sleep
Any of these side effects can make you irritable, and this can lead to problems with anger. At least at first, when you start taking the medication.
It will take time for your body to adjust to the medication, and the chemicals it contains. This can include, sudden and dramatic changes in mood. The good news is once you’ve adjusted to the mood stabilizer issues with anger and irritability usually diminishes, though it might not stop completely.
If your outbursts of anger are causing real problems in your life, don’t stop taking your medications. Talk to your physician instead.
Tips on Preventing Bipolar Rage
Even if you follow your treatment plan exactly as prescribed you will still have mood swings, and this can mean feeling irritable and even angry.
You won’t be able to prevent every burst of bipolar anger, but there are ways you can manage and even prevent some of them.
- Know your triggers. Certain people, events and even requests can be stressful enough to trigger a mood swing. This can cause irritability or angry outbursts. Recognizing these triggers can help you avoid placing yourself in that situation, and if that’s not possible you can learn important coping mechanisms. Making a list of these triggers will help you learn what they are.
- Always take medications as prescribed. The best method of controlling mood swings and bipolar outbursts is to take your medications exactly as prescribed. While it probably won’t stop every bipolar episode, it will help you better manage the disorder.
- Therapy will help. If you don’t already have a therapist, ask your primary mental health care provider for recommendations. Participating in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has shown to have a positive effect in helping people manage and cope with the emotions, thoughts and concerns that come with being bipolar. Talking to someone is always beneficial, especially when they are non-judgmental.
- Keep a journal. This is not only a smart way to identify your triggers, it also allows you to write down your feelings without negatively impacting others. Being able to reread your entries when you are calmer can be a helpful tool in preventing the next burst of bipolar anger.
- Use your support team. Let your support team know that you are struggling to control your temper. Don’t let your emotions build up for days, this just leads to angry outbursts that you’ll end up regretting. Being held accountable for your actions, can also help you recognize the early warning signs and possibly prevent the next one.
Being Angry is Okay
Anger is an emotion that everyone feels, and it is usually a healthy and normal reaction to a stressful event or situation. Being bipolar doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feel anger, but you don’t want this emotion to control or ruin your life.
If your friends are avoiding you or loved ones no longer want to engage in intense conversations with you, this can indicate that bipolar disorder anger might be negatively impacting your life. When this occurs, it is time to speak with a mental health professional.
Being bipolar doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feel emotions that include anger and irritability, only that you might need to work a little harder at controlling your outbursts.