It’s perfectly acceptable to let loose in some situations– a night out with friends, being silly with your kids, or letting down emotional walls with a trusted therapist. It’s not, however, acceptable to go on a bender that has long-term consequences on your health, your career, or your loved ones.
So what’s the difference between “having a good time,” and having a manic episode that leads to unregulated behavior?
What is Manic Behavior?
Mania is a state of excessive energy, increased creativity, stamina, and happiness. When regulated, it’s a good thing; when part of an unregulated behavioral disorder, it’s a bad thing.
The Cause of Manic Behavior
Chemical imbalances in the brain are responsible for numerous mood and behavioral disorders. During a manic episode, there is a problem with the balance of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin in the brain. This imbalance affects the functioning of the brain and the body and can be responsible for extreme mood swings.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone linked to the brain’s reward system. Its presence in the body can increase blood circulation, which makes the body function more efficiently. Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter, sending messages between nerve cells in the body.
This is a hormone released by the adrenal medulla and, like dopamine, it’s a neurotransmitter. It can raise blood pressure and increase the strength of the heart’s contractions. High levels of noradrenaline are linked to anxiety.
Another neurotransmitter in the brain, serotonin is linked to mood regulation, the brain’s reward center, and memory. Serotonin production can also affect sleeping patterns and influence whether or not a person feels hungry. Too little serotonin and a person experiences depression; too much, and a person experiences mania due to heightened cell activity.
In short, hormones influence how we feel. When our bodies do not produce the correct amount of any given hormone, our behavior may suffer as a result.
Symptoms of mania can include the following:
- Talking quickly
- Feeling little need for sleep
- Increased feelings of strength/invincibility
- Excessive optimism
- Unrealistic expectations
- Inability to organize thoughts
Some people experience hypomania, which is a form of mania to a lesser degree. You may still experience euphoria, grandiose dreams, and excessive bursts of energy, but it’s not as severe as during a manic episode.
There’s also a more extreme classification of mani called delirious mania. This is more serious than hypomania and mania, as symptoms can include hallucinations. The brain is so confused in this state of delirium that it can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. It paves the way to psychosis, a state in which a person detaches from reality.
In some ways, manic periods don’t sound pretty bad. You could probably accomplish a lot if you felt energetic without sleep, right? Additionally, someone experiencing mania might feel their creativity unleashed, allowing them to use their seemingly endless energy and desire to achieve to finish artistic projects.
Well, the problem is that it’s not a sustainable way to live, and the risks grow the longer the mania goes untreated. And, mania is often followed by bouts of depression. The Ludwig Study (1992) collected data on 1,005 people in artistic fields, finding that their creativity was likely sparked due to A) their own mild form of bipolar disorder or, B) a family history of bipolar disorder. The people studies worked in: architecture, art, musical performance, theater, and writing.
Symptoms of Depression
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Unexplained anger
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of motivation
- No interest in hobbies, work, relationships
- Problems with concentration
- Suicidal ideation
Unfortunately, manic behaviors are not balanced out by depression. Living with mania and depression is like riding a speeding roller coaster with no way off. Life feels like a constant series of super-high highs and super-low lows, with nothing in between.
Consequences of Unregulated Manic Behavior
Lack of self-control can lead to excessive spending, irresponsible gambling, and dangerous behaviors fueled by feelings of invincibility. Also, it can be unpleasant for others to spend time with someone in a manic episode; they can be hard to keep up with in conversation since their thoughts are all over the place. A manic person may act on a whim without considering the repercussions, and there can be negative effects on loved ones left in their wake.
Inevitably, a manic person has to come down. It could be after a few hours, days, weeks, or even months but, eventually, the spark fades. The depression that follows is a stark contrast to the mania that preceded it, making the experience that much more debilitating.
With the help of a therapist and a psychiatrist, someone living with mania can develop an effective treatment plan. It may take time, but a combination of modalities has proven beneficial.
- Mindful eating
- Regular exercise
- Meditation (for stress management)
- Support groups
- Talk therapy
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
- In-patient treatment (hospitalization)
Keep in mind that there are a plethora of medications that can be used to treat mania. As a result, it may take time to find the right one for you.
Medication to Treat Mania
This mood disorder is multifaceted, much like mania. There are various classifications of depression, ranging from mild to extreme. Depression can also present itself only after major life events, such as during puberty, after giving birth, experiencing a traumatic injury, or ending a meaningful relationship.
Due to the nature of depression, there are a lot of different ways it can be successfully treated. Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work at first; work with your doctor until you get the combination of modalities.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Behavior therapy
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Antipsychotic medication
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Triggers for Manic Episodes
Modifications to one’s lifestyle may be helpful in avoiding triggers for mania. Studies have shown that certain behaviors and substances can increase the likelihood of an episode.
- Lack of sleep
- Excessive alcohol, caffeine, or sugar consumption
- Use of recreational drugs
- Misuse of prescription medications
Additionally, changes to regular routines can trigger manic episodes. It’s important to learn coping skills so you can learn to go with the flow enough that life’s curveballs don’t completely derail you and send you into either a manic or depressive spiral. It’s normal to react to the unexpected with frustration, discouragement, fear, or excitement. It’s not normal, though, to let a change of plans put you in a state of extreme distress from which you can’t readily recover.
Although mania is a chronic health condition for many, it is not untreatable. It’s entirely possible to slow the roller coaster or decrease the huge gaps between the highest-highs and lowest-lows.