Sleep issues, mind-racing, and irritability are only a few symptoms in which bipolar disorder and anxiety overlap. How are they different?
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:
|Bipolar disorder mania
|Generalized anxiety disorder
|Feeling decreased need and thus little to no sleep
|Dissatisfied on little to no sleep
|Supercharged or functional energy levels, sometimes feeling euphoric
|Fatigued, sometimes feeling groggy
|Creative, innovative, goal-oriented (for better or worse), agitated
|Lack of concentration, all-consuming worry, ever mentally replaying interactions
|High self-esteem, impulsive
|Low self-esteem, irrational fears
|More talkative and gregarious than usual
|More avoidant of social situations than usual
|Low due to impulsivity
|High due to fear of the unknown
|Duration of episode
|2-4 months for mania/ hypomania, 2 years for cyclothymia
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 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
- 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When a person is having a depressive episode, they may be more withdrawn.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:
- 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,
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.
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.