Bipolar disorder and anger - why it happens and how to manage these emotions
Anger and irritability are common symptoms of bipolar disorder. While anger is a normal response that many people feel at moments in their life, a person with bipolar disorder will be more vulnerable to impulsive and often irrational outbursts.
A person with bipolar disorder can experience anger when they are either manic or depressive. During a manic episode, the anger they feel may be directed at another person or group of people, while during a depressive episode, they may become angry at themselves. These intense mood swings can be incredibly distressing and leave a person feeling that they have little to no control over their emotions.
This anger - when uncontrolled - can then have a huge impact on a person’s friendships, family life and career. We will look at how a person can identify and manage their triggers and subsequent symptoms so that they can work towards defusing and preventing any flare ups in the future.
Learning the triggers
Try to keep a list of all the triggers that cause you to become angry. Your triggers are likely to be different to others, and may be such things as traffic, making a mistake or offhand comments made by others.
Think about how your body reacts to these triggers, and write these down too. You may notice that you become hostile towards people, your heart starts to pound and your ‘blood boils’ or you don’t want to talk to people. Understanding these triggers can help you to pinpoint moments when you are starting to feel angry so that you can put actions in place to defuse your feelings.
Strategies for defusing your anger
Some strategies that you can use to cope in moments when you are starting to become angry include:
- Taking yourself away from what is causing you to become angry. During this time, you could focus your attention on your body by calmly counting to 10 and taking deep breaths
- Starting an activity you find calming, such as listening to a soothing playlist or reading your favourite book
- Putting your energy to good use. Go for a run, get out your art supplies or even do some baking
- Contacting a trust family member or friend who will know how to help you at the time
You can also manage your anger by looking after your health and wellbeing in the long term. Make sure that you are getting good quality sleep, as not doing so can cause your mood to shift. Also avoid drinking alcohol and make sure that you take your medication as prescribed, as this can help to manage your outbursts.
You may also want to look into cognitive behaviour therapy or dialectical behaviour therapy, which can help people with bipolar disorder to understand and manage their intense emotions more effectively. Taking place in both one-to-one and group settings, this therapy can provide you tools that you can use to decrease the intensity of your moods and put a stop to any unhealthy coping strategies that you use to manage these emotions.
Information for family and friends
When living with someone who has bipolar disorder, it is likely that you will witness anger. It can be intense and unexpected, and can be caused by a comment or question that wasn’t intended to incite such emotion.
It is important to learn how to best support the person you care about so that you are able to help manage the extreme anger that they experience.
Some strategies to think about include the following:
- Be aware of triggers – work with the person to understand their triggers, and what helps them to remain calm and stable. Work as a pair to put a strategy together that outlines what you will both do when triggers are sparked. For example, you may decide to engage in a distraction together, such as exercising, painting or doing chores. Make sure you have this conversation when they are composed and not emotional.
- Try not to take their anger personally – remember that the anger that they express is likely caused by bipolar disorder, and that they may not be angry at something that you have said or done.
- Get support for both of you – when living with someone who has bipolar disorder, it is important for you to have your own support system. You may want to join a support group, where you can talk to others who are going through similar situations. It is also important for you to spend time with your family and friends – you need to feel cared for too.
Getting access to the right treatment and support
It is important for someone with bipolar disorder to engage with the right treatment. At Priory, we work with people on both an outpatient and inpatient basis to help them manage their symptoms and reduce the intensity of any future episodes. We also work with family and friends to make sure that everyone is fully supported for life going forward.
This page was reviewed by Dr Samir Shah, Medical Director of Priory Hospital Altrincham, in February 2019, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in February 2021.