Understanding the Difference Between Bipolar Disorder and Life’s Normal Ups and Downs

Let’s face it: Everyone has good and bad days, and normal changes in mood are not only expected but a routine aspect of life. But bipolar disorder is something different altogether. When someone’s mood swings are so dramatic they interfere with his/her ability to maintain relationships, career or overall mental and physical health, untreated bipolar disorder can significantly impact one’s life in numerous negative ways.

It may be difficult to distinguish whether someone is going through life’s normal ups and downs or suffering from bipolar disorder, so it’s important to learn more about the difference between the two.

Decoding Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Although they may have a few common similarities, there are a few specific characteristics that can help you differentiate bipolar disorder from common mood swings.

Some specific examples of bipolar disorder symptoms include:

  • Seasonal changes in mood
  • Rapid cycling between moods
  • Psychosis

Some individuals suffering with bipolar disorder experience marked changes in mood that correspond to changes in the seasons. They can become manic or even hypomanic1 in the spring and/or summer and then experience depression in the fall and/or winter. For others, these tendencies can be reversed.

With bipolar disorder, individuals can also experience rapid shifts in mood. This is defined as having four or more drastic mood swings within a single year. In some people these mood swings occur much more quickly, sometimes within just hours of the previous one.

Individuals experiencing severe episodes of either, mania and/or depression may end up suffering from psychosis, which is defined as a detachment from reality. The symptoms of psychosis may include false beliefs, also known as delusions, along with hearing and/or seeing things that are not truly there or hallucinations.

What Falls Under the “Normal Ups and Downs?”

It’s impossible to be happy and carefree all the time, and part of the human experience involves circumstances that can alter someone’s mood of change someone’s life in the blink of an eye.

Here are some examples of normal ups and downs:

  • Moments of sadness
  • Lack of interest
  • Occasional mood swings

It is typical for an individual to experience moments of sadness due to a traumatic event. It is also normal for these feelings to last several weeks, but not for them to completely change an individual’s life. It is also common for an individual to sometimes experience a lack of interest in certain activities he/she once enjoyed.

This experience, however, should not be long-term or last several months at a time.

Traumatic events can cause an individual to feel completely lost and sad for a few weeks, which could lead to occasional mood swings. However, these mood swings should not occur more than four times per year or be drastic enough to change an individual’s life or the life of others around him.

Drug Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

If you or someone you know and love is struggling with bipolar disorder or a related addiction, please call our toll-free helpline today at 844-675-1221. Our highly trained and professional counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and help you find the best treatment available. Stop just wishing your life was better and call us today to make it better!


Pietrangelo, Ann. “What You Should Know About Mania vs. Hypomania.” Healthline, February 18, 2018.

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