Sleep issues, mind-racing, and irritability are only a few symptoms in which bipolar disorder and anxiety overlap. How are they different?

For many people, symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can feel similar.

Learning the difference between bipolar disorder and GAD can help you find treatment options to address your specific concerns.

At first glance, the two can look similar. After a deeper dive, though, you can see several distinctions:

SymptomBipolar disorder maniaGeneralized anxiety disorder
SleepFeeling decreased need and thus little to no sleep Dissatisfied on little to no sleep
EnergySupercharged or functional energy levels, sometimes feeling euphoricFatigued, sometimes feeling groggy
ThoughtsCreative, innovative, goal-oriented (for better or worse), agitatedLack of concentration, all-consuming worry, ever mentally replaying interactions
PsycheHigh self-esteem, impulsive Low self-esteem, irrational fears
SocialMore talkative and gregarious than usualMore avoidant of social situations than usual
Risk AssessmentLow due to impulsivityHigh due to fear of the unknown
Duration of episode2-4 months for mania/ hypomania, 2 years for cyclothymiaChronic

While anxiety can be ongoing, mania will ebb (in people with bipolar disorder II, cyclothymia, or mixed episodes) and is usually followed by an episode of depression.

A person with anxiety often dreads the hypothetical worst-case scenario event. Those managing bipolar II, cyclothymia, or mixed episodes of depression often dread the looming depression bookending an episode of charging “full steam” ahead.

Experiences of mania and anxiety can feel similar. An episode of mania and anxiety can share symptoms like trouble with sleep, racing thoughts, agitation, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition marked by fluctuations in mood, energy, and activity levels. The mood changes can include episodes of mania, depression, and psychosis.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 2.3 million people in the United States manage bipolar disorder.

When a person is experiencing an episode of mania, they can seem more energetic and active than usual. They might experience several symptoms such as:

  • boundless energy while sleeping only a few hours a night
  • racing thoughts
  • impulsivity, which can negatively impact their employment and finances, their interpersonal, sexual, or social relationships, or result in legal consequences
  • distracted
  • restlessness, agitation
  • feeling fidgety and absentmindedly pacing, picking, or adjusting — called psychomotor agitation

When a person is having a depressive episode, they may be more withdrawn. Other symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • feeling sad or hopeless every day for 2 weeks
  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • constantly feeling guilty or worthless
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyed favorites
  • suicidal thoughts or intentions

Generalized anxiety disorder

GAD is a prevalent type of anxiety that can interfere with your day-to-day life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.7% of adults in the United States experience GAD at some time in their lives.

If you have GAD, you might be anxious about several things a lot of the time. GAD symptoms include:

  • restlessness, sometimes visibly
  • trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • startled easily, jittery
  • unexplained stomachaches, headaches, or other bodily pains
  • Muscle tension in your shoulders or neck

Some people can have bipolar disorder and anxiety. Studies have shown that anxiety is the most likely mental health condition to co-occur with bipolar disorder.

Diagnosing co-occurring bipolar disorder and anxiety and pinpointing one symptom to a particular condition can be difficult. However, with treatment, both are manageable.

Bipolar disorder and anxiety are two mental health conditions that can look and feel similar. Some people also experience anxiety and bipolar disorder together.

The differences come in the triggers behind the overarching symptoms.

Though experiencing bipolar disorder, anxiety, or both can be difficult, treatment — such as therapy, medication, mindfulness, and a sound routine — makes both readily manageable.