How a Person with Bipolar Thinks?

How a Person with Bipolar Thinks

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. People with bipolar disorder can experience manic highs, depressive lows, or a combination of both. But how does this condition affect the way a person thinks?

Understanding the thought processes of someone with bipolar disorder can shed light on their experiences and help foster empathy and support. In this article, we’ll explore the intricate workings of the bipolar mind.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Before delving into how a person with bipolar disorder thinks, let’s understand what bipolar disorder is. Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

These mood swings can range from extreme highs (mania or hypomania) to extreme lows (depression), with periods of stable mood in between.

The Roller Coaster of Emotions

Imagine being on a roller coaster where emotions are the tracks. For someone with bipolar disorder, these emotional highs and lows can feel like being on that roller coaster, with no control over when it speeds up or slows down. During a manic episode, thoughts may race at a million miles per hour, ideas seem to flow endlessly, and everything feels possible. It’s like having a burst of energy that won’t quit.

Conversely, during a depressive episode, thoughts can become heavy, sluggish, and filled with despair. It’s like trudging through thick mud, each step feeling heavier than the last. Simple tasks can feel overwhelming, and the future may seem bleak and hopeless.

How a Person with Bipolar Thinks?

During manic episodes, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience a range of thought patterns that reflect their heightened mood and energy levels. These can include:

  • Racing Thoughts

The mind may feel like a whirlwind of ideas, jumping from one topic to another rapidly. It can be challenging to focus on any single thought for long, leading to distractibility and impulsivity.

  • Grandiosity

Mania can inflate self-esteem and confidence to extreme levels. Thoughts of grandeur may arise, leading the person to believe they possess special powers or abilities.

  • Risk-Taking

The impulsivity associated with manic episodes can lead to risky behaviors, such as excessive spending, reckless driving, or engaging in promiscuous activities. The person may not fully consider the consequences of their actions due to their elevated mood.

  • Increased Creativity

Some individuals experience a surge in creativity during manic episodes. They may embark on ambitious projects, generate innovative ideas, or pursue artistic endeavors with fervor.

  • Difficulty Sleeping

Mania often disrupts sleep patterns, leading to decreased need for sleep or even periods of insomnia. The mind races even during the night, making it difficult to rest.

The Depths of Depression

On the flip side, depressive episodes in bipolar disorder can bring about a different set of thought patterns, reflecting the low mood and energy levels characteristic of this phase. These may include:

  • Negative Thinking

Depressive episodes are often accompanied by persistent negative thoughts. The person may dwell on feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness. Self-criticism and self-doubt can become pervasive.

  • Loss of Interest

Activities that once brought joy and pleasure may no longer hold any appeal during depressive episodes. Hobbies, socializing, and even basic self-care tasks may feel like burdensome chores.

  • Cognitive Slowing

Depressive episodes can impair cognitive function, making it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things. Thoughts may feel foggy and disjointed, contributing to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

  • Suicidal Ideation

In severe cases, depressive episodes may lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. The person may feel overwhelmed by emotional pain and see death as the only escape from their suffering.

  • Social Withdrawal

Depressive symptoms can lead to social isolation as the person withdraws from friends, family, and activities they once enjoyed. They may feel like a burden to others or fear being judged for their condition.

The Pendulum Effect

One of the defining features of bipolar disorder is the oscillation between manic and depressive episodes. This pendulum-like swing between extremes can profoundly influence the way a person thinks and perceives the world around them. For example:

  • Cognitive Dissonance

The contrast between manic and depressive states can create cognitive dissonance, where thoughts and beliefs may contradict each other. During manic episodes, the person may feel invincible and full of optimism, while during depressive episodes, they may feel hopeless and worthless.

  • Emotional Whiplash

The rapid shifts in mood and energy levels can be disorienting and exhausting. It’s like being tossed around by emotional waves, never knowing when the next peak or trough will hit.

  • Chronic Uncertainty

Living with bipolar disorder can instill a sense of chronic uncertainty about one’s own thoughts and feelings. The person may question the validity of their emotions, wondering if they’re experiencing genuine happiness or merely a symptom of mania.

Coping Strategies and Treatment

While bipolar disorder can pose significant challenges, there are various coping strategies and treatments available to help manage the condition:

  • Medication

Mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications can help regulate mood swings and reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.

  • Therapy

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can teach coping skills, challenge negative thought patterns, and provide support during difficult times.

  • Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a stable routine, getting regular exercise, practicing stress-reduction techniques, and avoiding alcohol and drugs can help stabilize mood and improve overall well-being.

  • Support Network

Building a strong support network of friends, family, therapists, and support groups can provide invaluable assistance and understanding.

  • Self-Care

Engaging in self-care activities, such as practicing mindfulness, journaling, or pursuing hobbies, can promote self-awareness and emotional resilience.


Understanding how a person with bipolar disorder thinks requires empathy, patience, and an appreciation for the complexities of the human mind. While bipolar disorder can present unique challenges, it’s essential to recognize that individuals with this condition are not defined by their illness. With proper treatment, support, and self-care, people with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives, navigating the highs and lows with resilience and hope. By fostering awareness and compassion, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for those living with bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.

Written by Amy Fischer

Amy, a registered dietitian at the Good Housekeeping Institute's Nutrition Lab, brings a wealth of expertise to nutrition, health content, and product testing. With a journalism degree from Miami University of Ohio and a master's in clinical nutrition from NYU, she's a versatile expert. Prior to joining Good Housekeeping, Amy worked as a cardiac transplant dietitian at a prominent NYC hospital and contributed to clinical nutrition textbooks. Her background also includes PR and marketing work with food startups.

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