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Dr Ashraf Nasr

Blog reviewed by Dr Ashraf Nasr (MBChB, MRCPsych, FRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

Bipolar Disorder vs Anxiety Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that severely affects someone's mood. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder sees people experience extreme episodes of depression (intense feelings of sadness and low mood) and mania (emotionally high and increased energy levels).

Anxiety disorder is a persistent feeling of worry or uneasiness, often connected to certain scenarios like social events, a trauma in your past or your health. While we all feel anxiety at some point in our lives, people with anxiety disorders will experience persistent symptoms of anxiety over many weeks and months.

It is not uncommon for someone with bipolar disorder to have a co-existing anxiety disorder. For a person with these co-occurring conditions, it is crucial they get the correct diagnosis so that they are able to access the right treatment for both disorders, and manage them effectively.

The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder

Many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder will also suffer from a coexisting mental health condition, with anxiety disorders being the most common. Research suggests that anxiety disorders are 3 to 7 times more prominent in people with bipolar disorder than in the general population (source). A study in the World Journal of Psychiatry says that over half of people with bipolar disorder will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Bipolar is a mood disorder, and so many of the symptoms people experience can overlap with those of anxiety. Examples include:

  • Feeling restless 
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Changes to the amount of sleep you're getting, be it more sleep or less 
  • Changes to your appetite 
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness 

While bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder are both serious conditions on their own, the combination of the two can be extremely challenging for someone to live with. The symptoms of one, or both, of the conditions, may worsen. The impact that might have includes:

  • Suffering from low confidence and self-esteem
  • Risk of substance abuse such as alcohol and drugs
  • Increased number of mood episodes 
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Negative treatment outcomes

Self-care Tips for Managing Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders

Self-care can also be a big part in managing bipolar and anxiety disorders simultaneously, helping you to calm your anxiety and better understand your bioplar disorder symptoms. Try incorporating the following recommendations into your weekly routine.

  • Meet up with family and friends – your anxiety may leave you feeling as though you want to isolate yourself, but it is important to get out of the house and speak to others. You could meet up with someone you trust to talk about your worries and work out solutions together. A good catch-up can also distract you from your symptoms and boost your mood
  • Exercising regularly – the chemicals released into your brain as you exercise can be a great mood stabiliser. Try to get outside and do some form of exercise that you enjoy for 30 minutes, 3 times a week
  • Establish a good sleep routine – insomnia can be a trigger for manic episodes so it’s important to establish a good sleep routine. Wake up and go to sleep at similar times every day, even at weekends, and try not to nap during the day. Also, avoid using electronic devices in the hours before you go to sleep, or when you are in bed
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – you may try to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol. But this can aggravate your symptoms, worsen mood disorders and lead to addiction issues
  • Try some relaxation techniques - breathing exercises, visualisations and muscle relaxations are all effective ways to deal with anxiety. Over the long-term, it could help reduce your anxiety and help you to focus more on overcoming your bipolar. 

Treatment Options for Co-occurring Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders

When receiving treatment for bipolar and anxiety disorders, it is important that any medication and therapy is suitable for both conditions. Speak to your GP or another medical professional and they can advise on how best to treat your coexisting conditions. Treatments include:

Medication

Antidepressants are an effective pharmacological treatment for anxiety disorders, but they can adversely affect the course of bipolar disorder. They can destabilise the mood of the person with bipolar disorder and cause hypomanic or manic episodes. The risks mean that you must always consult a doctor about the medication you are taking and what might be best to manage both your conditions.

Mood stabilisers are an alternative form of medication for bipolar sufferers, used alongside suitable treatment for their co-morbid anxiety.

Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and relaxation training can be useful for those with bipolar disorder looking to manage their anxiety.

Help for Mental Health Conditions with Priory

At Priory, our world-leading teams of mental health practitioners support people with bipolar and anxiety disorders, helping them to regain control of their lives. Our mental health treatments include outpatient services, giving you the opportunity to set up a series of hourly sessions with an experienced consultant, psychologist or therapist to help you better manage your symptoms in everyday life.

Alternatively, an inpatient stay at one of our network of mental health hospitals can allow you to fully focus on recovery without distraction from the outside world. During a hospital stay, you'll take part in a dedicated treatment programme, working with experienced therapists and consultant psychiatrists, developing ways to better manage the co-occurring disorders going forward.

Use the information below to get in touch today and start your journey to improved wellbeing with Priory. 

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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