If you have bipolar disorder, you may notice the change in seasons might trigger your symptoms. If symptoms worsen during specific seasons, there are ways you can cope.

It’s not uncommon for some people to feel sad on gloomy days and happy on sunny days. Some people have a mood disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is when they experience seasonal fluctuations in their moods depending on the time of year.

People with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood, often experience mania or high-energy moods, depression or low-energy moods, or both. Sometimes these mood changes may correlate with the time of year or season.

If you have bipolar disorder and have noticed a pattern in how your mood evolves with the seasons, there are ways you can cope.

There are three types of bipolar disorder, all of which involve changes in mood and energy levels. They are:

  • Bipolar I disorder: This type consists of manic episodes that last at least 7 days as well as depressive episodes that last at least 2 weeks.
  • Bipolar II disorder: People with this type of bipolar disorder experience a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: It consists of periods of hypomanic symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms that last for at least 2 years.

The change in mood can last for hours to days, sometimes even weeks or months. These bipolar cycles are varied among people and may occur seasonally.

Bipolar disorder can be influenced by the environment, which can cause seasonal patterns in people with the condition. An estimated 15% to 22% of people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder reported experiencing seasonal patterns in their symptoms.

Research from 2014 shows evidence that climate conditions may trigger bipolar disorder symptoms.

It found that manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder peaked during spring and summer, and depressive episodes peaked during early winter. These findings suggest climatic conditions may trigger symptoms.

A 2013 study found that people with bipolar I disorder experienced a peak of manic symptoms around the fall equinox, and depressive symptoms peaked during the winter solstice.

An older study from 2002 found the same patterns in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. These manic episodes last an average of 13 weeks.

The amount of sunlight varies depending on the season and our location in the world.

The increase or decrease of light as well as the shortening or lengthening of days can have an effect on bipolar disorder because it disrupts your circadian rhythm. Researchers believe that a disruption in circadian rhythm may play a key role in bipolar disorder.

A 2019 study says that irregular circadian rhythms in people with bipolar disorder may contribute to episodes of mania and depression.

A hormone called melatonin helps sustain your sleep-wake cycle and is released from your pineal gland in darkness and suppressed in high light levels.

During the winter months, when there’s less sunlight, your brain may produce too much melatonin, which interrupts your internal clock.

Due to this, you may experience sleeping difficulties, such as sleeping later or longer during depression. Or you could experience a decreased need for sleep and a shorter circadian cycle during mania.

A 2018 study says that manic episodes tend to occur more often in spring because of a possible misalignment between your internal circadian rhythm and seasonal changes.

People with bipolar disorder and depressive symptoms tend to have a significantly delayed circadian rhythm, which is exacerbated with the change from winter to spring and the increase in light exposure, according to the study.

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of intense emotion and activity level. They can also have changes in their sleep patterns and display uncharacteristic behaviors.

Spring and summer months may bring symptoms of mania that may include:

  • high energy or feeling wired
  • racing thoughts or talking fast
  • behaviors with unwanted consequences
  • decreased need for sleep
  • loss of appetite

Fall and winter months may bring symptoms of depressive episodes that may include:

  • feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • loss of interest in activities and things you typically enjoy
  • increased appetite or weight gain
  • trouble concentrating
  • forgetfulness

It’s typical to have days when you feel down or days when you’re extremely happy and motivated.

But if you feel extremely down for days at a time or don’t want to do the things you normally enjoy, it may be time to consider seeking help.

Talking with a mental health specialist, such as a therapist or a psychiatrist, can help you get a proper diagnosis and rule out any other mental health conditions.

The key to an accurate diagnosis is recognizing a pattern. If you believe you have a seasonal pattern, pay close attention to them and track your symptoms when they occur and when they subside.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental health condition, but it can be managed with an effective treatment plan of both medication and therapy.

Medications used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. Other medications may be prescribed to help with sleep or anxiety.

You may also consider psychotherapy. This form of talk therapy uses a variety of techniques to help you change negative thoughts and behaviors, as well as teach you how to cope with difficult situations.

Learn more about treatment for bipolar disorder.

In addition to an effective treatment plan, there are ways to cope with seasonal bipolar disorder from home.

Here are a few suggestions that help people with SAD and can also help people with seasonal bipolar disorder.

Bright light therapy

If you don’t live in an area where you’re able to have sunshine all year round, you may consider getting a light box. A 2020 review found that bright light therapy is an effective treatment for bipolar disorder and can help reduce depressive symptoms.

Light therapy, or light boxes, is a common treatment for SAD. It uses bright lights that replicate natural light to help influence your circadian rhythm. This type of therapy is used to help reduce symptoms so you can sleep better and improve your mood.

The goal of this therapy is to temporarily inhibit melatonin production during the fall and winter months when the days are shorter and darker.

Get more sunlight

The decrease or lack of sun during winter may trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder. To help lessen symptoms, you can try and get as much natural sunlight as you can.

Try to wake up earlier and go for an early morning stroll. You can even sit by a window or, if you’re feeling active, take up a winter sport where you’ll be able to reap all the benefits of being active and being outside.

Supplement with vitamin D

During the winter months, you may not be exposed to enough sunshine. This can decrease the level of vitamin D in your body.

If you’re deficient in vitamin D and have seasonal symptoms of bipolar disorder, you may consider checking with your doctor to see if a supplement would be beneficial for you.

According to a 2010 study on vitamin D and depression, getting enough vitamin D may help prevent and manage symptoms of depression.

Stay active

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that people who have seasonal depression stay active. If you experience the same symptoms at the same time each year, plan out a schedule in advance to stay active.

The APA suggests:

  • going for a walk
  • ice-skating with friends
  • volunteering
  • joining a local club

Scheduling fun, active interests can be an effective way to lessen symptoms during the dark, cold months.

The National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) suggests people with bipolar disorder should do regular aerobic exercise to help with depression and anxiety symptoms. Some suggested exercises are:

  • jogging
  • swimming
  • walking briskly
  • bicycling

These forms of exercise are all good for your brain and heart, and are known to promote better sleep.

Spend time with others

Coping with seasonal bipolar disorder can feel lonely and isolating. Spending time with those you love can help you feel less alone. Try to avoid social isolation by getting out and doing the things you love with the people you love.

Snuggle your pets or play a game with your family. If you feel comfortable, talk with your loved ones about how the season you’re in is affecting you.

Sometimes talking with and educating those around you can be therapeutic and can also help everyone understand what you’re going through.

It’s not uncommon to have good days and bad days. But, if you have bipolar disorder and your mood changes correlate with specific times of the year, there may be a seasonal pattern of the disorder.

You’re not alone: About one-fifth of people with bipolar disorder experience seasonal patterns in their symptoms. Seasonal changes may affect bipolar disorder because of the disruption of your circadian rhythm.

When there’s a decrease in light and a shortening of days, your brain may produce too much melatonin at the wrong time, which can cause depressive symptoms like fatigue.

You can cope with symptoms of seasonal bipolar disorder at home by:

  • using light therapy
  • getting more sunlight
  • staying active
  • supplementing with vitamin D
  • spending time with others

If your symptoms are interfering with your life, it may be time to consider speaking with a healthcare professional. A doctor or therapist can give you a proper diagnosis as well as direct you to a treatment plan that will help you manage symptoms.

You can learn more and find additional information with these resources:

If you’re looking for a therapist but aren’t sure where to start, check out Psych Central’s bipolar disorder resource hub.