• advertisement

Our Mental Health Blogs

Bipolar Symptoms: Psychomotor Agitation

A reader recently contacted me and asked me about psychomotor agitation. Psychomotor agitation is actually a symptom of bipolar hypomania and bipolar mania (and depression) and yet few people know what this means. In fact, according to this study, it is poorly defined and measured even within the medical community. Psychomotor agitation is often translated into “restlessness,” which doesn’t seem overly descriptive to me.

So here’s my take on psychomotor agitation: how it feels and what we know about it.

Definition of Psychomotor Agitation

Wikipedia defines psychomotor agitation as:

. . . a series of unintentional and purposeless motions that stem from mental tension and anxiety of an individual. This includes pacing around a room, wringing one’s hands, pulling off clothing and putting it back on and other similar actions.

I would not consider this to be the best definition, however. While unintentional and purposeless motion may come as a result of psychomotor agitation, they, alone, do not define the condition.

A slightly better definition comes from Reference.MD:

A feeling of restlessness associated with increased motor activity. This may occur as a manifestation of nervous system drug toxicity or other conditions.

In other words psychomotor agitation is the feeling of restlessness (and inner tension) associated with muscle activity.

However, this is contradicted by one study in which psychomotor agitation was considered present if:

. . . fidgeting, pacing, handwringing, and/or other purposeless movements were evident nearly every day for at least a 2-week period leading up to the assessment. PMA [psychomotor agitation]-related behaviors had to be noticed by others and/or directly observable during the interview.

So in this case, the inner feelings seem not to be taken into account.

(Psychomotor agitation, by the way, has been correlated with substance abuse as well as bipolar disorder. Additionally, some feel that psychomotor agitation with depression is a key marker of a depressive mixed state.)

The Problem with Psychomotor Agitation

Certainly the repetitive, unintentional, purposeless movements associated with this condition are an issue, but what I think bothers people most is the inner feeling associated with it. It’s the drive to make the purposeless movements that makes this symptom intolerable. It’s the inner feeling of restlessness, tension and anxiety that really makes people hate this symptom.

It’s very difficult to describe tension that is so extreme that it forces movement, but this is what happens. It’s more than bugs crawling under your skin that you wish to scratch out with your fingernails. It’s like under-skin crawling bugs that are so agitating that they require arm flailing in an (unsuccessful) attempt to rid yourself of the feeling.

Treating Psychomotor Agitation

As far as I can tell, there are no generally used treatments for psychomotor agitation unless the situation is very severe or an emergency – such as in the case where the patient endangers themselves or others with their movements. In these cases, opinions vary on what to do but non-pharmacological interventions seem preferred.

If I had to advise someone on what to do about psychomotor agitation what I would suggest is the same kind of techniques that are advised for anxiety such as yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques. But that’s just me.

What I suspect is more common is that psychomotor agitation is reduced when the medication for bipolar disorder (or depression) takes effect.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Test test test

58 thoughts on “Bipolar Symptoms: Psychomotor Agitation”

  1. Hey Natasha, just discovered your blog. I think it’s great. I just started a blog about my bipolar, I hope you’ll visit! (So far, it’s just an about me page and one post, but more to come!) Cheers.

  2. Natasha, once again you shed light on something obscure about our condition. I appreciate all the research you do and your attempts to get to the bottom of things.

  3. Hi Natasha,
    I’ve been following your blog for about a month now and I just wanted to say thank you for your honesty and for your advice. Your perception of this disorder is similar to mine and I love that you put in the time to do the research and find creditable sources. I wanted to ask if I could suggest a topic for you to discuss. I’m bipolar and I’m currently tapering off my meds to try to get pregnant. Do you have any advice on the best forms of natural treatment for bipolar during pregnancy. My doctor said I should try be med-free during conception and the first trimester if I can help it but recommended Zoloft and Letuda(I’m not sure on the spelling) if I get stuck in one of my moods and need help. What’s your opinion on this topic?

  4. i have that symptom and i always thought it was from anxiety. my official diagnoses are DID, PTSD, anxiety and depression. should i be screened for bipolar? as far as i know i’ve never had mania or hypomania.

  5. I never knew that their was a name for this but relate to it’s symptoms… but I sometimes find with some of the repetitive actions I do a distraction from the maelstrom within. I also would like to note that I have had these behaviours since childhood and was forever getting into trouble over them for behaving (to quote my Mum ‘ like a caged tiger ‘
    Also your page is great, useful, informative and well balanced. Thank you.

  6. great post. i related to it on a very personal level. i had to share it with my readers on my blog. thanks for bringing such important and upcoming information to the table for us all.

  7. When I attempt to explain it to someone I generally tell them that everything inside of me, organs, muscles, everything, feel like a spring sprung way to tight and I have to move or figure out some way to release the pressure because if I don’t I feel like I will explode.

  8. I think my scratching is a form of this because I’m not really wanting to hurt myself as much as release tension and feel real again.

  9. I think I just had an episode of that and the way I could describe it is I felt like I wanted to smash something or cry or just scream into a pillow. I had so much anger I didn’t know what or how to do it. But finally I channeled it positively and constructively doing things that needed to be done and would help me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Subscribe to Blog

  • advertisement

in Breaking Bipolar Comments

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Mental Health
Newsletter Subscribe Now!

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me