Bipolar Anxiety: How To Manage Your Symptoms When They Overlap

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/09/2020

Bipolar disorder and anxiety can exist together, which means understanding how to navigate both is very helpful to wellbeing. Medical experts say it is common for both concerns to appear together while having a drastic effect on how they live. It is standard to feel anxious about things in life, but sometimes anxiety becomes overwhelming when it affects tasks, responsibilities, and communication with others. Understanding how symptoms of both affect your mental and physical health gives insight on what options to consider and how to manage them when they overlap.

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Understanding the Connection

Sometimes mental health concerns may appear together or co-occur at the same time because they affect the body in the same way, or one condition could increase someone’s chances of developing another. Mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and bipolar disorder may occur with anxiety. Some studies suggest people with bipolar could experience at least one form of anxiety disorder in their life. Since both conditions are considered long-term, it may be challenging to know how to live with them.

One challenge is they both share similar symptoms. Sometimes it is not easy trying to separate them during a diagnosis. A doctor could diagnose a person with bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder, but some indications help understand if the conditions co-occur. For example, the following points give insight into anxiety and bipolar co-occurring:

  • Lack of response to treatment
  • Taking longer than average to establish a medication combination to address bipolar symptoms
  • Ongoing issues with anxiety without being in a state of mania or hypomania
  • Problems sleeping due to feeling anxious
  • Avoiding activities that cause anxiety symptoms when feeling depressed or displaying mania
  • Feeling nervous, worried, or experiencing severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Sensitive to medication side effects

A person with bipolar disorder may have symptoms that standout or overpower those related to anxiety. There are a few differences to notice with bipolar and anxiety in this situation, including a person likely to experience more worrying, obsessive thoughts, and compulsive behavior. In this case, a doctor may consider someone having both disorders at the same time.

Sometimes when a person has both conditions, their quality of life is different or diminishes. A person may not function or engage in activities depending on their mental and physical state. Such individuals could be at risk for manic episodes, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse. If you recognize such behaviors in you or someone you know, help is available.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Your diagnosis determines your treatment plan. Usually, a person is diagnosed with one condition while experiencing the other with or without a second diagnosis. If you know you have two co-occurring conditions, your doctor or mental health specialist will help determine a treatment plan to address both symptoms.  If you have one condition but suspect you may have another mental health concern, contact your doctor or therapist to discuss your concerns, so the treatment you already have in place for your previous condition is adjusted to address additional symptoms.

Sometimes a person may learn of a new diagnosis based on their symptoms and how they occur. A person may get better clarification of what they are experiencing by comparing the original diagnosis with current symptoms. Certain situations could affect how the treatment is planned, such as having a history of panic attacks, having another mental health concerns such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), drug or alcohol addiction, inadequate response to treatment, high levels of irritability, and symptom complications leading to reckless behavior or self-harm.

Treatment for both concerns may include a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication. Over time, these elements may be adjusted to ensure they respond to your symptoms. Options used to treat anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder includes the following:

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    • There are different types of medications available to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. They may help stabilize your mood, treat anxiety by helping you feel calm. There is a wide selection of medication options available, so your doctor will choose another option if one option doesn’t work.
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Therapy, such as CBT, helps calm thoughts related to anxiety. People learn techniques to deal with their feelings while making improvements to their behaviors. Some find it helpful for panic attacks and anxiety disorder.
    • Social rhythm and interpersonal therapy. This form of therapy is common for people with bipolar disorder. It encourages patients to maintain a routine in line with their body rhythms. Some with bipolar are sensitive to bodily changes. It is recommended to obtain a sleep schedule you can stick with to reduce the risk of flare-ups with symptoms.

    While living with such symptoms may be uncomfortable sometimes, using the previous methods may help you live a productive life. It is essential to keep yourself educated and up to date on available options for treatment. Doing so ensures you stay in control of managing your symptoms.

    Lifestyle Tips for Coping

    Living with bipolar disorder and anxiety has its coping challenges, but there are things you can do to encourage a better lifestyle while making things easier. Now is a perfect opportunity to assess your daily routine and make some changes. Assess your tasks, responsibilities, and people in your life. Take notes on what you want to change and what is necessary to achieve it. Here are some suggestions on what to consider when planning how to make lifestyle improvements:

    • Limit or Avoid Caffeine. Doing this helps reduce the effects of mood swings. For some people, consuming too much may lead to sleep problems like insomnia. For others, it gets challenging trying to relax if they drank too much coffee or pop.
    • Get Enough Sleep Each Night. People with bipolar disorder may experience irregularities in their sleep when they don’t get enough rest. To encourage good sleeping habits, make a routine for going to bed and waking up in the morning. Before bed, consider ways to help your body unwind and relax, such as calm music, candles, tea, soaking in the tub, etc. In the morning, consider a routine to promote wellness, such as brushing your teeth or stepping outside for fresh air.
    • Engage In Physical Activity Daily. Exercise is great for your well-being while encouraging positive activity that benefits your physical and emotional health. Look for ways to engage in regular exercise. There are digital apps to provide guidance for many activities, from running to playing sports. You can even do something as simple as taking a walk around the block daily.
    • Practice Self-Awareness. Techniques such as mindfulness and meditation make a big difference when practiced regularly. You can use these techniques with other options like yoga and deep breathing to promote calmness throughout your body. Some have seen favorable results when using techniques to manage pain and other physical ailments. It helps the body become aware of its current state while being in the present. It also helps calm racing thoughts related to anxiety.
    • Combat Isolation. There are times it is okay to be alone for meditation or rest. But it would help if you encouraged yourself to be social more often. Or at least consider a way to reach out that is comfortable for you. Talking on the phone is highly recommended besides in-person connections. Engaging in a short conversation with a trusted friend or someone you know does wonder your mental and emotional health.

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  • Make It A Common Practice To Look After Yourself. It is significant to be an advocate for yourself. If you want to feel better or have more days where you feel comfortable, you have to make an effort to make necessary changes to see those results. A therapist can help you learn more about that. Consider having a plan in place that includes who to reach out to and positive actions to take if you experience a relapse.

Understanding Challenges

One of the most important aspects of dealing with symptoms of two conditions is to understand your options. It is okay to admit you need help and want to find out treatment options best for you. Some days are better than others. You may not feel like being bothered by others, or you may feel shameful or embarrassed. However, it is essential to remember you are not alone. There are many support groups online and in-person with people who have both conditions. Such people find their way to recovery by connecting with others and learning what works and what doesn’t. As you spend more time understanding your options, you’ll find ways to navigate through your challenges to reach your goals.

People with bipolar disorder and anxiety understand how challenging it can be living with symptoms that affect their livelihood. Fortunately, you have options that help you learn how to manage both. Using a combination of options provides effective results. Stay close with people who care about you and work with your doctor to ensure your treatment plan is best for you.