What Those With Bipolar Disorder Should Know About "Rapid Cycling

According to research, an average of 12% to 24% of people with bipolar disorder will meet the criteria of rapid cycling. It can occur as a symptom of any type of bipolar disorder. It can be a temporary occurrence for some individuals, while a small number may experience a continuous pattern of cycling indefinitely. 

Let’s talk about what exactly rapid cycling is, how to identify and cope with it, and the treatment available. 

What is rapid cycling?

People who have bipolar disorder experience fluctuations in moods—between the highs of mania or hypomania and the lows of depression. When someone experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression within a year, they are considered to be rapid cycling. Further, if four mood episodes occur within a month, it’s designated as ultra-rapid cycling. In contrast, people who don’t experience rapid cycling may have episodes that last weeks or months. 

Mood fluctuations generally tend to be short and can happen quickly, occurring over a few hours or days, with no specific pattern. 

Essentially, all people who live with bipolar disorder experience grace periods of normal mood (euthymia) in between episodes. These normal periods are relatively shorter for those that experience rapid cycling.

Scientists have yet to identify the exact cause of rapid cycling or who will develop the condition. They do, however, argue that there are common risk factors. 

Depressed woman sitting on floor against bed

These risks include:

  • Biological Sex: Females appear to be at higher risk than males.
  • Age: Teens with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience rapid cyclings.
  • Type of bipolar disorder: Individuals with bipolar disorder type 2 are at higher risk.

How to spot rapid cycling bipolar disorder

Rapid cycling looks different for people with bipolar disorder. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulties with focusing
  • High energy, restlessness, or loss of interest in things
  • Inflated ego or self-esteem
  • Insomnia or poor sleeping patterns
  • Uncharacteristic risky and/or impulsive behaviors
  • Sudden changes or an irritated/depressed mood.

Similarly, rapid cycling can be associated with external and internal factors. Some of  the most common triggers are:

  • Some antidepressants
  • Genetics
  • Medical conditions like Hypothyroidism 
  • Missing or suddenly stopping prescribed mental health medications
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Severe life stressors (childhood trauma, divorce, loss of job or loved ones).
  • Use and abuse of substances (alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, methamphetamines).

How to cope with rapid cycling bipolar disorder

Everyone has a unique journey with rapid cycling and needs an individualized treatment plan. However, if you or anyone you know may be experiencing this condition, these coping mechanisms can potentially help. 

1. Know the triggers. 

Identifying what triggers your mood changes can help reduce the frequency and likelihood of it occurring. 

For some, it can be insufficient quality sleep. Others may be impacted by isolation and loneliness or it may be triggered by certain topics, images, or sounds. 

If you can’t pinpoint your triggers, it’s beneficial to ask for help from a family member, close friend, or licensed professional who can assist you in identifying when mood changes occur.

2. Create and stick to a routine. 

When you’ve identified your trigger points, you’re better able to create a daily routine that will help regulate your mood changes and accomplish your goals. 

If your trigger is insufficient quality sleep, it’s best to develop a schedule that keeps a consistent sleep routine and promotes a good night’s rest. For example, an hour before your bedtime, turn off all electronics and other possible distractions. Try to dim the lighting in your room, drink hot tea, read, meditate, or listen to calming sounds. 

Pouring a mug of tea

Now, keep in mind that each individual’s daily routine is unique. Yours might look different to that of your peers. So, it’s essential that you find what works best for you and stick to it. 

3. Adjust your schedule accordingly 

Once you have a daily routine, you can make slight adjustments to accommodate your mood changes. This can help maintain your productivity, boost your energy, and add some positivity to your day. 

For example, if you find yourself in a manic phase, you can divert your excess energy into doing household chores or personal errands. Alternatively, you could use this time to go out for a walk or run, work out, or see family and friends. If you’re in a low phase, use this time to slow down. You could listen to podcasts, read books, or watch movies. 

This may sound challenging but keep practicing and know that you’ll get there. Take your time and work through the process in a way and pace that suits you. Stay determined and seek support when you need to. 

4. Have a recovery plan. 

With rapid cycling, people often tend to make impulsive decisions that they may later regret. Mood swings and/or immense irritability may be experienced which can result in conflict and impact relationships with friends or loved ones. This is not uncommon and is part of the condition, and as such, it helps to also have a recovery plan in these situations.

For example, if you believe you’ve unintentionally hurt someone in an argument, avoid self-sabotaging actions like buying them expensive gifts or over-apologizing. Rather, reach out to them, explain your side, and apologize sincerely. 

Group of friends talking

It’s also important that you take time to reflect on the situation, forgive yourself, and continue with your daily routine. Move on and learn from the situation. Stay compassionate and patient with yourself. 

Treatment for Rapid Cycling

Treatment plans are crucial in successfully addressing rapid cycling. 

An effective method is actively keeping track of your mood changes to understand what may cause you stress. When possible, record what circumstances cause your mood to change—like diet, exercise, sleep, or specific activities. \

Similarly, talk therapy can help you identify your triggers and teach coping skills that will allow you to deal with the condition. Working with a licensed therapist will also allow you to explore your emotions, moods, and thoughts in a safe environment. 

Cerebral is a team of prescribers who can provide you with the right treatment plan. This will include creating a stable daily routine and tips for managing healthy habits. We also have licensed talk therapists and care counselors who provide evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral interventions. 

Cerebral gives great importance to medication compliance, so our care team helps ensure you stay on track. If you have issues and questions, you can conveniently reach out to us about your prescribed medications. 

Finding the right treatment can be expensive and challenging for many. Cerebral helps make this journey affordable, convenient, and easy. If you or your loved one is interested in treatment, start your free emotional assessment today

Reviewed by: Dr. Aneel Ursani, MD

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