Bipolar: Anger is a Common Symptom

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Bipolar: Anger is a Common Symptom

According to Dr. Charles Spielberger in a publication of the American Psychological Association, anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury”. Everyone experiences some form of anger throughout their lives, but for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the anger which occurs as a symptom in 40% to 60% of this population combines with episodes of mania and depression to cause further problems. Sufferers may feel as if their life is spiralling out of control, which amplifies feelings of anger and creates a vicious cycle of destructive emotion.

Particularly in people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the tendency is strong to consider normal, everyday events as extremely stressful. Even the smallest things can cause an angry reaction far out of line with how most people would react in similar circumstances.

Physical and Psychological Components of Anger

In the psychological community, the DSM-IV designates “intermittent explosive disorder” as a separate illness but some research suggests it may be related to bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, there have been no studies as of yet to create an undisputed link between the two and anger is not listed as a symptom of either mania or depression. Too often, angry episodes are simply viewed as “normal”.

Anger is a stress reaction. Physical responses to stress invoke the fight or flight response as a result of adrenaline and cortisol flowing through the body’s system. In prehistoric days, this response was a lifesaver; in modern society the response has been adapted to occur in conjunction with stressors such as business or relationship problems. In other words, anger has adapted in response to new threats by arousing aggressive behaviour and feelings unrelated to survival. As stress escalates, so does anger, and the two emotions feed off each other. In terms of physical processes, the presence of excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline trigger cellular reactions destructive to the brain’s ability to cope.

As some have stated, depression is anger turned inward. For the person suffering from bipolar disorder, it is easy to see how anger could partner with depression, or even mania, and culminate in a very destructive phase of the illness.

Self-treatment methods which enable bipolar patients to identify the triggers to their mood swings and become better equipped to handle anger are the best defence. Education and self realization are important tools in controlling the alternate phases of bipolar disorder.

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12 Comments

  1. michelle
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I need some help very bad i am bipolar and have been in a hellishly strony dpresion with some times i feel somewhat ok then i am so anggre i explode then other times i want to hide in the corner and cry and just hide from everybody. These meds are helping very little if any at all I can not get good care because I have no insurance i also have from what I have herd the worlds worst dr, with no way to see anyother. I am going down and i dont think i can stop!!!!! Please is there anyone who can help me or at least point me in the right direction.

  2. Tess
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    It is important not to panic. You can discuss your condition and symptoms at http://www.samaritans.org or write to jo@samaritans.org. I think you will find the organisation supportive.

    Also ensure you are not too tired, hungry or lonely as these situations can only make your symptoms worse.

    There is a way through this but be very kind and gentle with yourself.

  3. dawn walters
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    i am a bipolar sufferer and wen i’m manic i am awful to my loved ones. i scream and shout throw things and i get so angry i worry i could hurt someone. me medication is helping though i am on serquel xL 800mgs and haloperidol with a little vallium and zopiclone to help me sleep.

  4. gale
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I have suffered from bipolar for my entire life and have had those anger spouts often. Communicating with your family is essential. Explaining to them that this is a symptom of your disease will help soften the impact of your tantrums. When I feel I can’t control myself, I go into my room and ask my family to leave me alone so that I don’t abuse them. When you are healthy, it is necessary to apologize for any wrong doing that you did. Be patient with yourself. It took years for the doctors to finally give me the correct medications. It gets even more complicated because you have to give your medicine between six weeks and three months to finally get into your blood system and to work properly. But if they still aren’t working, go to your doctor. If he’s annoyed that you want to change medicine, too bad! Ignore his/her attitude and explain what is happening to you and your needs. Try to avoid stressors. For me, I can’t watch the news. I listen to a lot of comedians and go to church. Remember that these are just emotions and not facts…you are worthwhile. The world is a better place with you here! God is hopelessly in love with you and willing to walk you through this disorder if you ask Him. Take one day at a time. One day you will look back and see that you’ve grown and be able to help someone else through this.

  5. adam
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    i have not been diagnosed bipolar but feel i am, no one to turn to for help but in need of some despratly i am in australia not sure where you lot are from need help

  6. admin
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your comments … @Gale ,I am exactly the same as you in the fact that I cant watch the news either .. I dont go to church but I try and keep my life light hearted by also watching comedians and sport !

    @Adam, People who comment on here are from all over the world.. I suggest you go and see a doctor and tell them how you feel , its probably the best place to start !

  7. karen
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I think my husband is bipolar because he was recently diagnosed with anxiety/depression, however, even on the medication he still gets extremely angry at times and little things set him off as well as still acts like he did before he took the medicine. Either the medicine is not working or he needs to be rediagnosed and take different medication.

  8. jade
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think I’m a bipolar sufferer, it would explain a lot if I am… I first went to my doctor’s with depression, having done some things that I am very ashamed of. I’m due back in a few days, so I guess I will find out…
    I’ve read a lot about the depression side of this hell, of which I may finally be beginning to get a hold of… only I haven’t read much on the other half, the ‘hyper’ side. I struggle with this just as much, my moods seem to switch from day to day, or even several times a day, particularly when I don’t eat. When I get hyper, I feel like I’m on drugs. I really don’t like it because I always make such a fool of myself and yet at the time it will seem hilarious to me. However, if I don’t get the reaction I want from my poor victim (usually my boyfriend) theres half a chance I become very angry very quickly. This can sometimes end in tears too.
    Please help me shed some light on this x

  9. storm
    Posted October 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    i’m not sure if i am suffering from bipolar disorder but i feel like i am..
    i get angry so easily. if someone says something to me that i dont like, it bothers me. then it annoys me. then i get angry. and then i can get so angry that i tremble and almost convulse.
    i get upset even easier. i have been having some problems with everything lately. sometimes i can go from laughing with my friends to falling on the floor in tears.
    i dont know what other symptoms go along with bipolar disorder..
    i cant go to my doctor about this because i cant afford it and my parents believe i’m just being dramatic. even though they know i have to talk to school guidance councillors every week about my problems.
    is there anything i can do to find out whats wrong with me without my parents having to know?

  10. gary
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    i am challenged with a variety of illnesses…as well as rapid cycling bipolar illness. according to the nature of this illness my meds have to be changed and/or adjusted regularly. i am involved in psychotheraphy weekly. however, i often find myself very angry and need to isolate myself in my condo (where i live alone) to protect myself and others. i hate this condition..please offer any suggestions. thanks.

  11. Deborah
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I am bipolar and keep having terrible fights with my husband whom I am sure keeps forgetting that I have bipolar! He takes everything personally and I just want to run away. We all need help and more education for the public needs to be out there. I hate this condition and it’s driving me mad I feel often! Sad and mad are the words I use to describe me.

  12. Deborah
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Gary, you are doing all you can do. Just keep at it. Read up on this illness, educate yourself and be good toyourself. It’s the only thing you can do. Stay away from toxic people and surround yourself with people who care for you only. I hope you feel better soon.

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