Could My Mood Swings Be Due to Cyclothymia?

Content reviewed by Gillian Bieler, LCSW, CSAT, Clinical Director

Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is a mental health disorder characterized by emotional reactivity and affective dysregulation. This disorder significantly impacts the quality and duration of a person’s mood. Cyclothymia causes a person to experience highs and lows that occur unexpectedly.

Cyclothymia can be disruptive to daily life and relationships.

Although similar, cyclothymia is less severe than bipolar disorder. However, mood swings can still be disruptive enough to make daily tasks and planning challenging to accomplish. A person with this disorder might feel productive and positive today, but they might become depressed and easily irritated later in the week. The unpredictability of mood changes can also pose problems at work and in relationships.

Cyclothymia is a rare condition, and the true number of cases is difficult to determine. Many cases go unreported or are misdiagnosed for disorders like depression.

Look out for these symptoms.

If you have cyclothymia, you will cycle through periods of elevated mood (hypomanic) and mild to moderate low moods (depression). These drastic mood changes happen within a shorter time frame than bipolar disorder, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. A stable mood cannot be maintained for more than two consecutive months. Some people have periods of normal mood, while others primarily oscillate between the two sides of the mood spectrum.

Hypomanic symptoms may include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Grandiosity
  • Racing thoughts
  • Being overly talkative
  • Increased sociability
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Sleeping less and feeling energized

Depressive symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Neurasthenia
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Depressed mood
  • Negative affectivity
  • Total lack of motivation
  • Inability to feel pleasure

Some people will experience the stress and anxiety of this disorder in the form of aches and pains such as headaches, chest pain and asthenia as well as weight and hair loss.

These factors may put you at risk for cyclothymia.

The onset of cyclothymia typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, and both men and women are affected equally. Scientists don’t know the true cause of cyclothymia, but there are some inclinations.

As Medline Plus notes, a person may be a risk of cyclothymia and other mood disorders if such mental health disorders run in the family. Differences in brain function and environmental triggers may also play as with bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is also associated with comorbidities such as personality disorders, anxiety, impulse control and substance abuse.

Many who develop cyclothymia have a life history of:

  • Hypersensitivity
  • Multiple divorces
  • Recurrent job loss
  • Reckless sexual activity
  • Incidents of self-harming
  • Legal or financial problems
  • Episodes of excessive gambling
  • Recurrent interpersonal altercations
  • Chronic pattern of emotional lability

Consider getting evaluated by a clinician.

Relative to bipolar disorder, most people who have cyclothymia can function and accomplish things despite the discomfort and distress it can cause. Given this, cyclothymia often goes undiagnosed because it is not as severe or debilitating as bipolar disorder.

Nevertheless, there are still important reasons to get evaluated and embrace treatment for cyclothymia if you have it. The first reason is that untreated cyclothymia heightens the risk of developing bipolar disorder, which is much more challenging to manage. Secondly, you might actually be struggling with a completely different disorder.

Cyclothymia not only overlaps symptoms of bipolar disorder, but several other psychiatric conditions, including personality disorders, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and neurodevelopmental disorders. Each condition poses its own complications that require effective treatment and coping skills.

Sudden periods of low mood may trigger drug or alcohol use.

Perhaps the most urgent reason you should get evaluated is that patients with cyclothymia are at a high risk of substance abuse. Benzodiazepine abuse is a particular concern as this class of drugs are frequently prescribed to treat symptoms of anxiety. However, long-term use of benzodiazepines can worsen irritability, mood swings, impulsivity and cognitive functions.

Daily to weekly changes in mood and unpredictability can be exhausting for an individual. They may become disheartened and self-conscious as their mood swings impact loved ones. Periods of mania can be draining as well, especially when a person becomes aware of their emotional state and the depressive symptoms that follow. During stretches of depression, a person may reach to substances to cope or self-medicate the feelings of hopelessness.

Mood disorders can be treated with professional help.

If you are experiencing mood swings and are unsure why, it might be time to see a professional. You don’t have to struggle alone; there are therapies and medications designed to help you manage your condition.

At Casa Palmera, we understand the challenges of trying to live with mood disorders like cyclothymia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Substance use and addiction tend to develop alongside these conditions as individuals relieve the severe discomfort and grief that coincide. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are known to dysregulate mood further, complicating mental health treatment. Substance addiction treatment may be necessary to fully recover. Our facility can treat both addiction to drugs or alcohol and simultaneously co-occurring mental health disorders. For more information on our services, contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.