Even Good Things Can Cause Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms

December 1, 2019 Natasha Tracy

The holidays are full of good things, but even these good things can cause bad bipolar moods. I know this might not make sense to some people -- after all, when something good happens, shouldn't that improve a person's mood? Well, this isn't exactly true if you have a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder. Yes, you might find good things improve your mood or you might find good things actually cause bad bipolar mood symptoms. Read on to learn more.

What Are Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms?

I'm using this term "bad bipolar mood" loosely, of course. When I say "bad bipolar mood" what I mean is the presence of negative mood symptoms. These vary from person to person and can be anything from all the symptoms of major depressive disorder like a low mood, an inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) and sleep changes to anxiety symptoms even to something as severe as the symptoms of psychosis. People vary as to how they manifest bipolar disorder moods.

What 'Good Things' Can Cause Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms?

And when I say "good things" I mean pretty much anything. It could be something like a big dinner with family members you don't normally see and miss. It could be a Christmas party at the office. It could even be gift-giving and receiving. All of these things and many more can be considered "good" and often happen during the holidays.

Why Would a Good Thing Cause Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms?

This is the question of the day. We honestly don't understand the brain well enough to explain this on a neurological level. That said, I can express what happens on a personal level.

I find that when something extraordinary happens in my environment -- and this includes something good -- it can destabilize the mood I have carefully worked to treat. It knocks my equilibrium. And even though the experience may be "good" that knock to my equilibrium is not. When my equilibrium is not maintained, my mood predominantly defaults to depression although sometimes it hits hypomania for a while before receding into depression.

I guess bipolar disorder is like walking a tightrope -- when stable, I can walk a straight line, but if I'm knocked, be that by a high-five or a gust of wind, I don't know if I'm going to be able to stay upright and where I may land if I don't. And whether I like it or not, even good things can constitute a "knock."

Avoiding Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms

This doesn't mean that good things aren't worth it, however. For example, I've decided to decorate my apartment for the holidays -- definitely a "good thing" (to me) but something that can wreck my mood if I'm not careful. To combat that risk, though, I'm doing the decorating over the course of two weeks. I know that sounds like a long time, but integrating that extra work into my day is really hard so that's how long I need to take. I'm protecting my mood stability. 

Basically, what I've done is I've recognized my, personal limitation, and I'm working within it. That's key to avoiding bad bipolar symptoms. Other things you might try to avoid bad bipolar symptoms even in the presence of good things include:

  • Limiting time at events.
  • Limiting the number of events you attend.
  • Limiting the money you spend on gifts and other aspects of the holiday.
  • Not hosting events but, instead, contributing to someone else's event.
  • Asking for help with baking, cooking, decorating, etc.
  • Communicating your needs and limits to others. Others can' t support you if they don't know you need support.

It comes down to respecting your own limits and boundaries. These can be difficult to assert at this time of year when we want to be everywhere and do everything, but they're critical. Remember, an uncomfortable conversation in December can avoid a major relapse in January. Your health is definitely worth that.

You can enjoy all the good things, you just have to do it in moderation. Make those knocks to your stability as manageable as possible.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2019, December 1). Even Good Things Can Cause Bad Bipolar Mood Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 16 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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