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David Baxter PhD

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The Difference Between “Everyday” Anger & Bipolar Anger

by Robin L. Flanigan,
August 4, 2022

Anger is a common emotion—part of the universal human experience. Its intensity, however, can leap to a different level when associated with bipolar episodes.

“It’s like turning up the volume, making it a lot louder and harder to ignore,” says Brock Schludecker, PsyD, clinical psychologist at Ohio State University.

Mental health professionals distinguish between periodic hot flashes of anger and the long-simmering irritability and rage that can last for extended periods during both depressive states and manic episodes.

Left unchecked, angry outbursts can destroy personal and professional relationships and leave people emotionally isolated.

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 individuals with bipolar described angry outbursts, what researchers called “anger attacks.”

The reason? Typical anger has a cause, and when that cause abates, so does the natural fight-or-flight response. Bipolar anger doesn’t need a clear reason to exist, so it’s more difficult to defuse.

To prevent and manage bipolar anger, look for patterns. Are angry feelings associated with certain emotional states, such as feelings of rejection, criticism, or abandonment? Are they connected to, or limited to, certain mood episodes or times of year?

Find free guided-imagery programs online that will help lower your heart rate and regulate breathing when you’re feeling in a heightened state.

Music therapist Meegan Hussain recommends programs that walk you through visualizing a forest or beach scene: “They help change that narrative in the mind from rumination and agitation—that negative space—into something positive.”

As long as we’re talking about rumination, try repeating to yourself that when it comes to bipolar anger, you’re not alone.

That’s what bphope blogger and author Julie A. Fast does, just before choosing to stay away from certain people until her mood swings subside. “They are not the problem—I am,” she says. “In the meantime, I don’t want to ruin my friendships in a fit of irrational anger. I’ve done that far too often in the past.”

About Robin L. Flanigan​

Robin L. Flanigan is a national award-winning journalist for magazines and newspapers, and author of the children’s book M is for Mindful. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in language and literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, she worked for eleven years in newsrooms including The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina, and the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. Her work has earned awards from the Education Writers Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, and elsewhere. She also authored a coffee-table book titled Rochester: High Performance for 175 Years. When not writing for work, Robin is usually writing for pleasure, hiking (she climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008), or searching for the nearest chocolate chip cookie. She lives in Upstate New York with her husband and daughter, and can be found at or on Twitter: @thekineticpen.
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