3 Key Differences Between Mood Swings And Bipolar Disorder

bipolar disorder

On a humid and hot day, it’s normal to precipitate like there’s no tomorrow. It’s normal to look like you’ve just excavated the Egyptian pyramids in the middle of summer. Or maybe you look like you’ve just crossed the Sahara during a drought, and that’s fine. It’s the body’s physical reaction to sweat when it’s hot, and generally speaking, the human body is very reactive.

The same goes with emotions, feelings, temper, mood, and many others. Different situations warrant different emotions, depending on the person and the circumstance. But as much as emotional reactivity is typical, there are times when it deviates from the norm. 

What Are Mood Swings?

As the name implies, mood swings are shifts in mood. Mood refers to a more prolonged and generalized state that serves as a ‘stage’ where emotions and feelings can perform. Mood serves as a conduit through which emotions and feelings run. And depending on the mood, the provocation and duration of emotion become reinforced and lengthened. 

Given the nature of moods, it’s typical for them to stay for a much more extended period of time than emotions. They’re non-reactive in the sense that, they don’t require any triggers, as feelings do. You can wake up feeling upbeat without any situation to elicit the mood, unlike emotions that warrant a happy situation to evoke happiness. 

This is why mood swings are confusing since they work as a backdrop for emotions. It may be relatively easier to identify which situation caused the emotion. Still, it’s challenging to determine which situation caused the sudden mood shift since it doesn’t require a probable cause in the first place.

But despite this, mood swings are just as normal as sweating on a hot day. However, if the swings become apparent, abrupt, and impairing, a mental health professional may need to intervene to provide treatment for bipolar disorder and other related issues. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that refers to the intense mood swings that hamper an individual’s capacity to function normally. Bipolar disorder is an umbrella term for the three subtypes—namely, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic Disorder. 

People diagnosed with Bipolar I usually have a manic episode that lasts for at least a week. Manic episodes of mania are characterized by an overwhelming amount of energy that can affect a person’s mood by becoming more irritable or energized. Associated symptoms of mania can also include pressured speech, racing thoughts, being easily distracted, and many more.

On the other hand, if manic episodes are one of the primary symptoms of Bipolar I, people diagnosed with Bipolar II have major depressive episodes that characterize their diagnosis. Specifically, Bipolar II needs at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode (a less severe mania).

Lastly, cyclothymic disorder is a less severe mix of Bipolar I and II, with ‘milder’ cases of hypomania and depressive symptoms. Without a proper diagnosis, it’s almost impossible to see the nuances between bipolar disorder and mood swings. So, to help you out, here are three key differences between the two. 

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As mentioned above, mood swings are quintessential to the psychological framework of humans. It’s normal to have ups and downs. It’s normal to feel happy when you’re in the mood or angry when you’re not. This is how mood swings affect your emotional regulation.

On the other hand, symptoms of bipolar disorder occur in a way that’s both impairing and debilitating. The effects of the mood swings and the mood itself elicit specific behavioral responses (or a lack thereof) that are atypical and extreme. 

For instance, you may feel down for a few hours and get back on your feet afterward during a normal mood swing. People with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, cannot simply dismiss it in a single day. Sometimes it may take several days, weeks, or even months to change moods. 

In addition, the behavioral responses to each mood are also extreme. For a typical person, feeling down can be mitigated by resting for a bit, but for someone with bipolar disorder, feeling down can mean staying in bed for days without doing anything. This can entail not finishing any work or school tasks, which can lead to being fired or incurring failed marks. 


When it comes to regular mood swings, people can just let it pass or do something they like to improve their mood. Reading a good book or putting on good music increases the likelihood of getting back on track. However, being a mental disorder, bipolar disorder requires more than just leisurely activities to be treated, let alone be managed. 

Firstly, a combination of psychiatry and psychotherapy is needed to mitigate the symptoms and help individuals lead a normal life. Psychiatric medications help inhibit the extreme symptoms of bipolar disorder, which can help the individual manage their lives better. 

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, can assist a person suffering from bipolar disorder in navigating its effects on various aspects of their life. Having bipolar disorder isn’t easy, and medications cannot empower the individual in most social settings. 

Psychotherapy can further help individuals with bipolar disorder II since major depressive symptoms need more than just psychiatry to be managed. 

This isn’t to say that people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are powerless on their own. Professional help aside, these individuals can do some self-help techniques to help them curb their symptoms.


At this point, it may already be glaringly obvious that mood swings are normal and that bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder. But more than that, it’s important to destigmatize yourself when it comes to comparing these two. 

Simply, it means that people must understand that having mood swings doesn’t mean having bipolar disorder. It’s vital for people to know that while normalizing and destigmatizing mental health awareness is the goal, people must not carelessly interchange what’s typical with what’s atypical. 

This is because there’s a chance that the significance of mental health disorders will be downplayed, thereby doing more harm than good to mental health advocacy. And while frequent mood swings may indicate an underlying medical concern, the key takeaway is to visit a professional.

Final Thoughts:

The relationship between mood swings and bipolar disorder runs more along a spectrum than a checkbox. Mood swings, alongside other symptoms, can indicate the presence of bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders. If you feel like there’s something wrong with your mood swings, perhaps it’s time for you to pay your psychologist a visit.