When intense irritability and “anger attacks” disrupt your life and damage your relationships, you may question how to move forward. To regain control over this sometimes-bewildering symptom of bipolar, look to the source—could it be a mood swing, increased stress, or an unrecognized trigger?
If Terry had to give herself a diagnosis, it would be “what I call POPD—pissed-off personality disorder,” she says.
Even though the she has learned numerous coping skills to help manage her bipolar II, she is still vulnerable to bouts of disproportionate anger.
“I can take a pimple and turn it into Pikes Peak,” Terry says.
Irritability and its souped-up cousin, anger, are common emotions—part of the universal human experience. With bipolar disorder, their intensity can jump to a different level.
“It’s like turning up the volume, making it a lot louder and harder to ignore,” says Brock Schludecker, PsyD, of Columbus, Ohio.
A 2012 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders suggests that people with bipolar I or bipolar II have greater rates of anger and aggressive behaviors than the general population. An earlier study from the Journal of Affective Disorders found that at least one-third of patients with bipolar described angry outbursts called “anger attacks.”
Dysphoric mania or hypomania—as opposed to the “high on life” euphoric versions—may be marked by abrupt, aggressive reactions despite little or no provocation. For some, depressive moods also amplify irritability and anger.
(Interestingly, researchers who compared the prevalence of anger attacks in people diagnosed with either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder found the rates were twice as high for bipolar depressions.)
When your normal tolerance for petty annoyances evaporates, that may be a red flag for an oncoming mood shift in either direction. Paying attention to your “irritability index” lets you deploy preventive measures, giving you back some conscious control over your temper.
Armed with awareness, you’ll be better able to moderate the kind of explosions that wind up sabotaging relationships, jobs, plans, and other things you care about. [ end of excerpt ]
Printed as “Stopping a Bipolar Rage Rampage,” Winter 2021
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