Cyclothymia: what it is, treatments and how to live with the disorder

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a mood disorder in which the person suddenly experiences moments of depression or euphoria. It has some similarities with bipolar disorder, but the main difference is in the intensity of mood swings and number of crises.

What is cyclothymia?

Imagine the perfect morning. You woke up early, had a delicious breakfast, exercised or stretched, took a shower to help wake up, and are ready to face the day with optimism and disposition. You already have dozens of plans to make the most of every moment until you get home.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, his spirits disappear. You are dejected and without energy. Expectations for having a good day and completing tasks with the best of moods disappear. Even your thoughts change and become darker.

That’s how cyclothymia works. Its manifestation is more common in adolescents and young adults. It can also originate from an explosive temper naturally from the patient.

The cause is not clear, but there are speculations that point to genetic and biochemical factors. The environment in which the patient grew up also influences his development and way of life. An unfavorable environment can contribute to the onset of the disorder.

Although this roller coaster of emotions damages the life of the person with the disorder, the symptoms are still milder and more subtle than those of bipolar disorder.

Cyclothymic disorder x Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder in which the patient goes through periods of depression and intense mood, also known as mania. A person can spend weeks or months in manic or depressive states.

The most common symptoms of bipolar disorder are impatience, restlessness, anxiety , distress , increased or loss of appetite, accelerated thoughts, increased sexual appetite, melancholy and anger . Briefly, it includes depressive, anxious and manic symptoms.

Already cyclothymia has milder symptoms and different duration. There is a risk of up to 50% of cyclothymic people being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Basically, cyclothymic disorder is characterized by two different states: hypomania and depression.

Hypomania symptoms

It is a state of milder mania characterized by feelings of euphoria (extreme joy and well-being), in addition to irritability and excitement.

In the hypomanic episode, the person has a sudden exacerbated self-confidence and feels unbeatable, which can impair coherent thinking and cause avoidable confrontations.

The symptoms of hypomania are: mood swings, sleep disturbances , difficulty concentrating, chattering, and impulsive behavior, for example, making wild purchases that later lead to regret. They usually last up to a week.

It is common for these symptoms to go unnoticed and be justified as part of the person’s personality.

Depressive symptoms 

Right after the hypomanic phase, the person can enter the depressive phase.

The depressive symptoms in cyclothymia are the same as those of depressive disorder, however, they are less intense. The person feels discouraged, tired and sad for no reason. Negative thoughts start to arise, disturbing the person’s perception of life and about themselves.

You need to be aware of depressive symptoms, as they can evolve and turn into suicidal tendencies . Since this evolution is subtle, one rarely realizes one’s feelings until someone points them out.

How is the diagnosis of cyclothymia made?

Diagnosing cyclothymia is not an easy task. Euphoric episodes end up bringing positive results, such as high productivity and high self-esteem . That is, the person with the disorder believes that this injection of motivation is just a characteristic of their personality. Your way of “dealing with life”.

Friends and family are the first to notice the changing moods due to the interaction. But, as the person himself does not notice the change in his behavior, he ignores other people’s comments and refuses to seek help to make a thorough investigation of his emotional state.

The consequences of cyclothymic disorder, however, are present in all spheres of a person’s life. It is likely that this inconsistency is perceived as a lack of responsibility or commitment.

In euphoria, the person becomes highly productive, but later discards the initiated projects, passing on an unreliable image.

The same is true in relationships, especially in love. The cyclothymic tends to change partners frequently by acting on impulsivity. Their unpredictable behavior and exaggerated reactions to common events end up hampering the building of lasting bonds.

To make a complete diagnosis, it is necessary to evaluate the patterns that are repeated in the patient’s life. In addition, there are some criteria that must be observed to differentiate cyclothymia from other disorders.

  • Duration: the symptoms of hypomania and depression must have been present in the person’s life for at least two years.
  • Duration of symptoms: the symptoms must have occurred for more than two months, alternating between them.
  • Symptom intensity: should be of mild intensity to avoid confusion with other symptoms.

How is the treatment of cyclothymia?

Cyclothymic disorder cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated with both psychological counseling and medication.

Psychotherapy plays a fundamental role because it helps the patient to deal with mood changes in a healthy way through self – knowledge . Thus, he develops greater control over his emotions.

Drug treatment may involve the use of mood stabilizers, anxiolytics and mild antipsychotics . These should be indicated by a psychiatrist.

The role of family and friends is very important. Clarifications about the disorder should be sought to avoid judgments and attitudes that may further harm the patient. Outsiders can help by being patient and understanding in the face of mood swings.

It is essential to seek help to prevent symptoms of cyclothymia from getting worse. Hypomanic symptoms, for example, can progress to maniacs after a more severe attack. Thus, it is necessary to rediagnose the disorder for bipolarity.

Likewise, depressive symptoms can become more intense, leading the person to a state of deep depression . It is common, in these cases, that the person has experienced traumatic situations in the past. This factor further highlights the importance of psychological treatment.

Therefore, even if mood swings do not seem, at first sight, so intense, treatment is indispensable for the mental health and well-being of the person with the disorder.

How to live with cyclothymia

As there is no cure, cyclothymic disorder is chronic, prevailing for the rest of a person’s life. It is possible that the symptoms disappeared for a period, but eventually return.

As explained in previous topics, the symptoms of the disorder can affect the quality of interpersonal relationships and impair new friendships and experiences. In addition, impulsivity can result in financial problems and self-destructive behaviors (drug and alcohol abuse).

As a small percentage of people develop the disorder, the patient may feel misunderstood and lonely as his life experiences are not shared by others.

In addition, in adolescents and young people, mood swings can be interpreted only as a phase of growth. Consequently, they are not taken as seriously.

To relieve symptoms, the cyclothymic may resort to certain strategies.

1 – Try to see the problem rationally

As soon as the overreactions manifest, stick to rational thinking. Ask questions about your thoughts and feelings to understand their origins.

In a depressive phase, feelings of emptiness, non-belonging and social exclusion are common. Ask yourself if these match reality. Are not the bad thoughts just trying to settle in your mind?

Remember the people in your life who care about you and focus on your achievements and positive attributes. Gratitude is an exercise that can be practiced for this purpose.

2 – Express your feelings

The feeling of incomprehension and impatience on the part of others can often make you sad or frustrated.

If you just drown out the negative emotions within yourself, when you need to leave, it will be more difficult to control them. Possibly, you will explode at the wrong time and with the wrong people, or you will have more intense crises due to this accumulation.

Talk to trusted people, a psychologist or keep a journal to report thoughts and feelings. It is especially useful to report moments of crisis to release all negativity. At Vittude we have several specialized psychologists ready to help you.

3- Develop tactics to manage stress

Stress can affect the person with the cyclothymic disorder more deeply. Certain scenarios act as triggers that can lead to the hypomanic or depressive phase.

Therefore, creating tactics to deal with highly stressful situations is essential. Deep breathing exercises, moments of relaxation and constant physical exercise have the power to combat stress and promote well-being.

If you didn’t like the suggestions above, that’s fine. Look for activities or techniques that effectively impact your mood. There are  dozens of  effective alternatives to strengthen our mental health.

With simple changes in attitude, it is possible to build a healthier way of life as well as to live better with  cyclothymia


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