Identifying and Understanding Common Bipolar Triggers

Bipolar disorder causes extreme fluctuations in mood, energy, and activity levels. It is characterized by alternating periods of mania or hypomania and depression. These mood episodes can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, affecting their ability to function and engage in daily activities. Understanding the symptoms and triggers of bipolar disorder is essential to managing these mood changes effectively. It’s important to understand that everyone experiences bipolar differently and there is no one-size-fits-all approach for dealing with it. However, understanding your bipolar triggers can help you recognize warning signs that a mood episode is approaching.

Bipolar triggers refer to events, situations, or experiences that cause mood swings in people living with this condition. These triggers vary from person to person, and some can be more obvious than others. That’s why therapists help people living with bipolar disorder identify their triggers and incorporate them into personalized mental health plans. The goal is to understand how certain life changes might lead to an episode and to increase your ability to effectively cope with it. Collaborative treatment with a strong understanding of your triggers can lead to better outcomes in managing symptoms, reducing the frequency and intensity of mood episodes, and improving overall quality of life.

Let’s review some common triggers of bipolar mood episodes.


High levels of stress.

When people living with bipolar disorder experience high levels of stress, it can cause a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode. Managing stress is crucial for maintaining stability. Stress management techniques might include attending therapy, engaging in self-care activities, setting social boundaries, building a support system, doing mindfulness or meditation, exercising, and more.


Changes in sleep.

Have you ever noticed that your mood and energy levels seem to fluctuate when you don’t get enough sleep? Well, for people with bipolar disorder, changes in sleep patterns can be a trigger for mood episodes. Studies have consistently shown that both too much and too little sleep can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to mood instability.


Relationship conflicts.

Being in a state of emotional distress, whether it be due to a significant relationship or family conflict, can lead to intense stress which may trigger a mood episode. This is because individuals with bipolar disorder are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment and susceptible to heightened emotions. It’s important for individuals with bipolar disorder to practice healthy coping mechanisms and strive towards effective communication within relationships, especially during times of turbulence.


Job changes.

Changing jobs can be a significant source of stress, which in turn can trigger a bipolar episode. For individuals with bipolar disorder, sudden changes and loss of routine can derail their emotional balance. It’s essential to recognize the impact that job changes may have on those with this mental health condition and take measures to decrease their risk of instability.


Seasonal changes.

Seasonal changes can certainly affect the brain’s neurochemistry and circadian rhythms. For example, changes in sunlight exposure can impact the production of serotonin and melatonin hormones that regulate mood and sleep patterns. It’s important to be mindful of seasonal changes and the potential to cause bipolar episodes.


Starting college.

For young adults with bipolar disorder, the transition of starting college after high school can potentially trigger an episode due to the added pressure and changes that come with college. Moving away from home, adjusting to new routines, meeting new people, and coping with academic demands can be overwhelming for anyone. However, these challenges may be particularly challenging for individuals with bipolar disorder. The onset of a manic or depressive episode during this time may lead to problems in academics and relationships. Therefore, it’s crucial for students with bipolar disorder to take good care of themselves during the early stages of college life by seeking professional help if necessary, having supportive friends and family available, sticking to routines as much as possible, practicing healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, and getting enough sleep.


Getting married.

While getting married is often considered a joyous and exciting milestone in life, it can actually trigger a bipolar episode in some individuals. This is because the stress and pressure associated with planning a wedding, meeting family expectations and financial commitments can be overwhelming. The emotional highs of anticipation may turn into manic episodes, while the lows can spiral into depressive states. It’s important to recognize warning signs early on.


Having a child.

Having a child can be an exciting, life-changing experience. However, for those with bipolar disorder, it’s important to know that this major life change and lack of sleep associated with having a newborn can trigger mood episodes. While not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience mood swings after having a child, it’s crucial to be aware of potential triggers and work closely with mental health professionals to manage symptoms.



Moving can be an incredibly stressful experience, and this stress can trigger a bipolar episode for those living with the disorder. Disrupting routines and forcing individuals to adapt to new environments and social situations can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, and mania. The added financial burden that comes with relocating can also compound these stressors, which can lead to a worsening of symptoms. It is important for individuals living with bipolar disorder who are considering moving to take steps to mitigate the potential risks by creating a plan for support ahead of time.


Substance use.

Substance use can interfere with brain chemicals responsible for regulating our emotions and can worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder. In fact, studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder who use substances are more likely to experience longer mood episodes with greater intensity than those who don’t. It’s important to seek professional help if you’re struggling with substance abuse and bipolar disorder because both conditions need to be treated simultaneously for effective management.



Grieving for too long or too intensely can result in feelings of hopelessness, decreased energy, and difficulty sleeping, which are all symptoms associated with bipolar depression. On the other hand, grief may also trigger manic or hypomanic episodes where a person experiences heightened emotions and difficulty controlling their impulses. Therefore, it’s crucial for those with bipolar disorder to seek support during times of loss to manage potential triggers. While grief is a natural part of life, it’s vital to take care of our mental health as well along the way.


Certain medications.

Certain medications – even some over-the-counter medicines – can cause an onset of mania, hypomania, or rapid cycling in people with bipolar disorder. This happens because some medications interfere with the stability of mood that is essential for managing this condition. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone who takes medications will experience adverse effects – it varies from person to person. That’s why it’s so important for those with bipolar disorder to work closely with their doctors to monitor how different medications might affect them and adjust treatment accordingly if needed.


Other major life changes.

In general, any major life change – whether positive or negative – can trigger a bipolar episode. However, by paying attention to changes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with each and every life change that comes your way, people with bipolar disorder can take preventative steps, such as seeking treatment, reaching out to support networks, and engaging in emotional-regulation practices to help balance and stabilize mood changes.


While living with bipolar disorder can certainly be challenging at times, it’s important to remember that there are many treatments available that can help you overcome mood episodes to live your life to the fullest extent. If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, we would be honored to provide support. Remember that seeking help is an act of enormous courage and strength. You deserve to be well.


Written by Lauren Presutti

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