Bipolar disorder is a complex mood disorder that affects many aspects of a person’s life. Learn what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder to better understand how it affects people.

Bipolar disorder belongs to a category of psychiatric conditions called mood disorders. This classification is because bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating states of “highs” and “lows” that greatly affect one’s life. Living with bipolar disorder isn’t easy and it can affect a person’s life in many ways.

What Does Bipolar Disorder Feel Like?

Bipolar disorder has been described by some people as a state of living between two extremes. These two extremes are called mania (the highs) and depression (the lows). The disorder can also be viewed as a battle of the mind as a person alternates between manic and depressive moods. Bipolar disorder feels different for every person and it can present with a wide spectrum of symptoms. Generally, the types of symptoms are characterized by three distinct states: mania, depression and “the middle.”

Bipolar Mania

Mania is the term used to describe the periods of high, energetic moods that bipolar individuals experience. But what does mania feel like? There are a variety of bipolar mania symptoms, including:

  • High energy levels or activity
  • Racing and erratic thought patterns
  • A decreased need for sleep
  • Impulsive decision making (such as promiscuous sexual behavior or impulsive spending)
  • Feelings of grandiosity
  • Psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations)

Although the term “high” is frequently used to describe manic episodes, this doesn’t mean that mania feels good. Sometimes it can feel good, but other times it can be extremely distressing for an individual with bipolar disorder. Mania can also be dangerous, particularly if a person is prone to the more psychotic-like symptoms of mania.

Bipolar Depression

Depression is the term used to describe the periods of low moods that people living with bipolar experience. Bipolar depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or worthless
  • Lack of interest in activities that the person usually enjoys
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • The inability to complete simple tasks
  • Thinking about suicide or death

So what does bipolar depression feel like? Some people say it can feel like the worst time of their life. Depressed states are common among people with bipolar disorder. For some people, they spend longer periods in the depressed state than in any other.

“The Middle”

Finally, there is a middle state featuring periods of bipolar stability. This middle state can be short and infrequent for some people or more enduring and common for others. It largely depends on how well an individual manages their bipolar disorder (e.g., if they are on medication, if they are participating in therapy, etc.).

How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Everyday Life?

There are many challenges of living with bipolar disorder, and bipolar effects on daily life can be devastating. The disorder can affect many aspects of everyday life, such as relationships, family life and work.

Bipolar Disorder and Relationships

Bipolar episodes greatly affect one’s personal relationships. Research suggests that people with bipolar disorder and their romantic partners struggle with the impact of bipolar disorder on their lives and relationships. Neither bipolar individuals nor their spouses are able to accurately assess the impact of bipolar disorder on their partner’s lives. Because of this disconnect, it can be a great strain on the relationship.

Friendships can be hard to maintain as well. Maintaining relationships with people living with bipolar disorder can be frustrating for everyone involved because of the complexity and instability often associated with the disorder.

Bipolar Disorder and Families

The effects that bipolar disorder can have on families is also a challenge people must live with. Members of a family in which one of the parents have bipolar disorder have difficulty communicating effectively with one another. When families have a bipolar parent, they have less cohesion, less organization and more conflict. Because of how bipolar disorder affects families, these families may want to consider participating in counseling or therapy together.

Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

Bipolar disorder can also affect a person’s career. The effects can be so dramatic that some people with bipolar disorder can’t work at all. Bipolar disorder in the workplace is often fraught with interpersonal problems due to mood fluctuations and erratic behavior by those with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder results in a lack of continuity in work history and people may feel stigmatized in their workplace.

Tips for Managing Bipolar Disorder

Managing bipolar disorder can be difficult. People who are most successful with managing their bipolar disorder tend to do so while using a combination of medication and therapy. However, there are other tips for dealing with bipolar disorder.

For example, learning to cope with stress can help manage bipolar episodes. Here are some tips for dealing with stress:

  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Get physical exercise
  • Talk to someone

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Brooke Dulka, PHD
Brooke Nichole Dulka is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She received her PhD in Biological Psychology at the University of Tennessee in August 2018. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “Bipolar and Related Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).” 2013. Accessed September 21, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” Accessed September 21, 2019.

Granek, Leeat; Danan, Dor; Bersudsky, Yuly; Osher, Yamimia. “Living with bipolar disorder: the impact on patients, spouses, and their marital relationship.” Bipolar Disorders, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Romero, Soledad; et al. “Family environment in families with versus families without parental bipolar disorder: a preliminary comparison study.” Bipolar Disorders, 2005. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Chang, Kiki; et al. “Family environment of children and adolescents with bipolar parents.” Bipolar Disorders, 2001. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Michalak, Erin; et al. “The impact of bipolar disorder upon work functioning: a qualitative analysis.” Bipolar Disorders, 2007. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.