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Sunday, 13 Jun 2021

7 Common Triggers of a Bipolar Episode

By Dr Becky Spelman
7 Common Triggers of a Bipolar Episode | Private Therapy Clinic

The key to successfully managing any mental health condition long-term is knowing what your patterns are, so you can interrupt them with more benign and beneficial habits/actions. You need to know yourself to be yourself. And bipolar is no different from most other mental conditions in that once you identify the triggers, you then cease to be a victim of circumstance. You begin taking back your life and become truly empowered. Although the exact cause of bipolar is still unknown, it’s thought that factors such as genes, brain structure, along with stress response and management all play a major role. And from this, it’s been observed that various lifestyle and environmental factors are most responsible for the onset of a bipolar episode.

1. Changes in Sleep Patterns or Lack of Sleep

Sleep can often be a hard trigger to use to confirm the onset of bipolar when taken in isolation, as it can both act as an early warning sign as well as a symptom of an episode itself. However, if you’re consciously putting yourself in situations where you’re missing out on good quality regular sleep, you could be putting yourself at a higher risk of experiencing a recurrence of a mood-related episode. That means those who work night shifts and people who burn the midnight oil need to be very careful how far they allow themselves to stay awake late into the evening.

2. Huge Blowout Arguments with Co-Workers, Partners, or Friends

One of the big red flags that you’re experiencing or else are on the edge of experiencing an episode is your ability – inability – to maintain your interpersonal relationships. Turbulent and failed connections are often the result of untreated/undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Arguments, can, in many instances, be due to the irritability that occurs during a manic or depressive episode. Or, it could even cause stress, which then goes on to become a contributing factor to your mood, which in turn causes the breakdown of a relationship.

3. Stress Resulting from Strained Relationship or Breakups

It’s important to note, stress itself is just as much a standalone trigger and comes in many different contexts, which are worth mentioning in their own right. The stress caused by a failed relationship can often feed into the idea of unworthiness – causing depression – and flights of over sexualised/promiscuous behaviour that stems from a need to alleviate the stress which has been caused by the breakdown. This reactive-based temperament is one that can be avoided by becoming aware of triggers and taking preventative steps which involve clear and transparent communication with those in your inner circle if you’re feeling on edge. You can raise the objection first and in a fashion apologise in advance for any behaviour which is uncharacteristic. This way, you take control of the narrative and avoid being on the back foot having to claw back your relationships.

4. Side Effect from Antidepressants, Corticosteroids or Other Pharmaceuticals 

It’s a little known fact – especially for those people who may have recently been diagnosed – that antidepressants can often do more harm than good in some circumstances. Despite the fact they can be an excellent aid in giving people back their quality of life, in some instances, they’ve actually been known to cause manic episodes. Many psychiatrists have gone on record to say they’ve seen patients enter into a manic phase after starting anti-depressants – to the extent that some psychiatrists err on the side of caution with regards to prescribing meditation.

5. Changing of The Seasons and Abnormal Clock Genes

Around 20% of those with bipolar disorder experience significant changes in their mood when the weather changes. And that means for some people, their condition is dependent on the passing of the seasons. It’s been observed that many of those who suffer from bipolar tend to experience a higher frequency of manic/mania episodes during the spring and summer months, while autumn and winter account for increased occurrences of depression. But then, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as the complete opposite can be true for other people. It’s also worth noting that the seasonal shift can also have an effect on your sleep patterns, which can also be contributing factor to the onset of episodes.

6. Going Through Pregnancy and Childbirth

Although it’s been well documented in scientific journals, the link between childbirth and bipolar isn’t something that would immediately come to mind if you weren’t seeking out information on the condition. Numerous studies have found that the risk for mood disorder episodes significantly increased during the postpartum phase of pregnancy in women with bipolar. One study found that nearly 50% of women with bipolar disorder experience at least one mood disorder episode during pregnancy, or within 12 months of childbirth. It’s also worth adding here that both men and women with bipolar may be triggered by the event of childbirth itself. It’s been observed that new fathers have an increased risk of hypomanic episodes after their child is born.

7. Drug and Alcohol Use 

Drugs and alcohol aren’t the cause of bipolar, but they can absolutely contribute to the onset of an episode. If abused, they can cause an episode to suddenly occur and even make a pre-existing episode worse. This is a significant concern, and one that is worth noting as around one-fifth of people who suffer from bipolar disorder also struggle with substance abuse issues. Regularly taking drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine can cause or worsen the effects of a manic episode. Conversely, the after-effects – or comedown – associated with taking these substances can also contribute to the onset of depressive episodes.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you’re struggling with bipolar and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.


Everyday Health (18th Oct 2017) 9 Most Common Triggers for Bipolar Mood Episodes. Retrieved on 24th April 2021 from,

WebMD (11th Mar 2020) Mood Swings and Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved on 24th April 2021 from,

NHS (11th Mar 2020) Causes – Bipolar disorder. Retrieved on 24th April 2021 from,

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