Dear Therapist:

I often experience what seem like dramatic mood changes. One day I'll wake up with loads of energy ready to take on the world and the next I will sit in bed trying to convince myself to get out of bed. I am sometimes full of joy and optimism and other times just retreat into myself. My friends joke that I am "bipolar." I asked my doctor about it and his response was something to the effect of, "We all have our ups and downs" and that I don't have anything as significant as bipolar disorder. I thought this was strange as it seems to me to be the definition of bipolar. Do you think this is nothing? When do these mood swings qualify as a problem? Are there any methods you can recommend for dealing with life's ups and downs? Thank you.



I don’t have nearly enough facts to even speak to the possibility of a bipolar diagnosis. I wonder what you mean by dramatic mood changes. This could mean simply that you recognize that for most people the difference between feeling upbeat and feeling down is “dramatic.” Or it could mean that you recognize that most people have different feeling on different days (or at different times within the same day), but that your “mood changes” are more troublesome than the norm.

There are various reasons for mood changes. Causes can range from the normal vicissitudes of life and everyday stressors to underlying issues like bipolar disorder. There are some basic questions that you can ask yourself to get some idea as to whether your mood changes are externally or internally based.

Can you identify specific outside factors that tend to put you in a good mood or to precipitate negative feelings? Do you generally react to each factor in the same manner? How strong are your feelings and how long do they last? Are the strength and duration in proportion to the magnitude of the outside factors? If the average person were dealing with the same thing, do you think they would feel the same?

Depending on the answers to these and other questions, there are various ways of dealing with unwanted feelings. If your feelings are manageable—just annoying—and it’s your friends’ joking comments that are bothering you, recognizing your triggers can help you to focus on the sources of your emotions. This takes some of the focus off the emotions themselves, which can allow you to better deal with them. Focus on our emotions alone can cause them to stagnate or exacerbate.

If your feelings, however, are more troubling than you believe they should be, a therapist can help you to determine whether you have a more significant issue that can be addressed in therapy.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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