Anger & Bipolar Disorder

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn the definitions and features of anger and bipolar disorder. You will also learn how anger and bipolar disorder are related. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

What is Anger?

Anger is often rendered as a terrible thing, but it is unquestionably and absolutely a natural emotion. We feel anger when our bodies perceive a threat to our safety or sense of self, so it is actually a protective response. But a simple seed of anger can grow into a weed of aggressive and violent thinking patterns and behavior. This is when anger becomes destructive, abusive, and damaging to our life roles and relationships.

Anger is a deep feeling of irritation, annoyance, or aggravation towards another person, event, or situation. Anger can present itself at different severities. It's helpful to think of anger on a thermometer. When a normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F increases to just over, let's say 98.9 degrees F, one could say that their anger is merely at a level of disappointment or small-scale annoyance. On the other hand, if the temperature read a dangerous 105 degrees F, one could be said that they are enraged or livid.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

How many times have you heard someone joke that someone must be 'bipolar' because they drastically change from one mood to another in an instant? Some people even think of bipolar disorder as having two personalities. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a much more complicated disorder that involves alternating periods of mania (an elated and high-energy state of happiness) and depression due to a chemical imbalance or difference of structures in the brain. It's important to note that everyone has ups and downs, even on a daily basis, but bipolar disorder is severe and causes major disturbances in daily living.

Bipolar disorder is like alternating between two masks of depression and mania.
Bipolar disorder.

To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have alternating periods of mania and depression. A manic episode must have at least three of the following eight symptoms:

  • Grandiose thoughts or behavior and unreasonably high self-esteem
  • Diminished need for sleep
  • Speaking fast without pause
  • Racing ideas
  • Lacking ability to focus or tendency to become easily distracted
  • Excessive and purposeless movement, like pacing back and forth, due to anxiety, excitement, or tension
  • Extreme pursuit of goals with many activities
  • Pursuit of high-risk and pleasure-seeking behaviors

The depressive episode must last at least two weeks and have four of the five following symptoms:

  • Drastic change in appetite, weight, sleep, or activity level
  • Lethargy or very low energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty with concentration, decision-making, or thinking straight
  • Suicidal (killing oneself) or homicidal (killing another) thoughts, plans, or attempts

Relationship Between Anger and Bipolar Disorder

Anger can originate from the way someone thinks and perceives situations and other people's actions. Anger can stem from misuse of alcohol or drugs. Anger can also sprout from underlying vulnerable feelings of fear, anxiety, or depression. Because bipolar disorder has a lot to do with the brain's chemistry and a chemical imbalance, there is a theory that the anger associated with bipolar disorder may be also due to this reason. This is why many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are prescribed medications to help cure this imbalance. Let's look at some other possible reasons that people become angry if they have bipolar disorder.

Anger During Bipolar Mania:

After a mere 4 hours of sleep the night before, Sarah euphorically and energetically cooks, cleans, cares for the baby, and accomplishes many things on her to-do list. When her husband, Tom, arrives home from work she asks him to join her in her productivity: to wash the cars, to put up the shelf in the baby's room, and to hang the newly-puchased picture frames on the wall. Tom agrees but moves slowly through the tasks.

Sarah becomes frustrated and angry with Tom's sluggishness because she perceives him as slowing her down. She rapidly speaks to Tom about her new plans, goals, aspirations, and a multi-million-dollar idea for a new invention that she has just pioneered that day. When Tom expresses his doubts, Sarah gets defensive and angry, accusing him of ruining her grandiose plans for wealth and world domination.

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