People with bipolar disorder tend to experience ups and downs that last longer than typical mood swings and significantly interfere with their day-to-day life.

Lots of people experience mood swings from time to time. But if you experience extreme highs and lows, you may be wondering whether these are everyday emotional shifts or a sign of a more serious condition like bipolar disorder.

In general, as long as your moods don’t significantly interfere with your day-to-day life, they likely don’t constitute a medical diagnosis.

But if you experience extreme episodes of mania or hypomania (an extremely happy, elevated mood) and extreme episodes of depression, you might have bipolar disorder.

Since bipolar disorder typically requires treatment to help manage moods and improve your quality of life, it’s a good idea to recognize its signs. Here’s what to know about distinguishing between everyday mood swings and bipolar disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mood swing that lasts a few hours or up to a day is expected. But if your mood is either severely depressed or abnormally elated for at least 4 days, it may be a sign of bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder tend to have mood shifts that are more intense and debilitating than others. They’re also more likely to engage in impulsive, risky, or dangerous behavior. For instance, more than merely getting upset in traffic, they might speed or do other reckless things.

Similarly, when people without mood disorders are feeling down, they might be able to still carry out basic, everyday tasks. Meanwhile, those with bipolar disorder may feel too depressed to get out of bed or bathe for extended periods of time. They also may often feel suicidal.

Most likely, you’re simply experiencing everyday mood swings if:

  • Your mood swings don’t last longer than about a day.
  • Most of the time, you can still go to work or manage everyday tasks.
  • You usually don’t engage in behaviors that are likely to have negative consequences (such as overspending, overeating, or starting fights).
  • You’re able to maintain functional relationships with loved ones.
  • You’re able to engage in activities you enjoy.
  • You don’t experience suicidal ideations.

To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you must have experienced at least one cycle of mania or hypomania.

Mania involves intense and sometimes dangerous highs of excitement, energy, grandiosity, and impulsivity. It may even cause delusional thoughts, hallucinations, or paranoia. Hypomania is slightly less severe than mania but also causes a surge in excitement and emotion.

Mania symptoms can impact your everyday life, potentially causing issues at work or home. Hypomania typically doesn’t interfere with your life to the same degree, though it will still likely cause some issues.

Those with bipolar disorder may also experience major depressive episodes where they feel very low. There are two types of bipolar disorder a person can be diagnosed with.

A bipolar I diagnosis requires:

  • minimum of 1 episode of mania lasting at least 1 week
  • symptoms that impact day-to-day life
  • symptoms that don’t relate to substance use or another medical or mental health condition

A diagnosis of bipolar II includes:

  • at least 1 hypomania episode that lasts at least 4 days and involves 3 or more hypomania symptoms
  • hypomania-related shifts in mood and function that others may notice (though they may not impact your day-to-day life)
  • at least 1 episode of major depression lasting at least 2 weeks
  • at least 1 episode of major depression that involves 5 or more depressive symptoms and that significantly affects your everyday functioning
  • symptoms that don’t relate to substance use or another medical or mental health condition

Cyclothymic disorder symptoms

Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia is a milder mood disorder but is otherwise similar to bipolar II disorder. It’s characterized by episodes of low-level depression followed by mild mania (hypomania).

Your emotions tend to go up and down, but they’re less severe than bipolar disorder. For that reason, mood swings may be easily mixed up with cyclothymic disorder.

The main difference is that cyclothymic mood changes inhibit your quality of life. Cyclothymic disorder mood swings will also usually be obvious enough for others in your life to notice them.

If you think you have bipolar disorder, there are many treatments that can help you manage symptoms and live more fully and well, including:


To treat bipolar disorder, a doctor might prescribe:


There are many types of therapy that may be effective for treating bipolar disorder, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a talk therapy designed to help you create new, healthier behavioral patterns. It might involve identifying thought patterns, reframing destructive emotions, and developing new coping strategies.
  • Psychoeducation: Psychoeducation revolves around educating you about bipolar disorder, including how it manifests and how it may be treated. This method can help you develop the knowledge and tools you need to manage symptoms.
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy: This therapy focuses on changing your day-to-day routine. By shifting your sleep, exercise, and social schedule, for instance, you could experience fewer symptoms.

Alternative and natural treatments

Especially when combined with traditional methods, alternative remedies that might help treat bipolar disorder include:

Specifically, the following herbs and supplements have some limited research to support their use for bipolar disorder:

  • Omega-3: A small 2016 study suggests that omega-3 supplementation may help reduce bipolar symptoms.
  • S-adenosylmethione (SAMe): This amino acid supplement can help ease symptoms of mood disorders like bipolar, a 2013 review suggests.
  • Rhodiola rosea: According to 2013 research, Rhodiola rosea may help treat depressive symptoms.

Always talk with your doctor before trying new supplements.

To some degree, mood swings are a normal part of life. But if you experience extreme ups and downs that interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have a mood disorder like bipolar disorder.

If your mood swings are interfering with your day-to-day life, consider speaking with a mental health professional to find a treatment plan that works for you.