• Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder, which is characterized by emotional highs and lows, or manic symptoms and depressive symptoms.
  • Manic symptoms include: racing thoughts, a lack of good judgment, irritability, and hyperactivity.
  • Depressive symptoms include: feelings of sadness or hopelessness, weight fluctuation, and suicidal thoughts or ideation.
  • To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, an individual must meet a specific set of criteria, of which includes multiple periods of hypomania and depression, as well as periods of stability.
  • There is no one cause of cyclothymia; instead, scientists agree that multiple factors are involved including genetics and one’s environment.
  • Cyclothymia is a treatable disorder, and different forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy have proven to help those who suffer with it.

Cyclothymia is a rare mood disorder and mild form of bipolar disorder, characterized by emotional ups and downs. With cyclothymic disorder, an individual might feel great one week, and then low or down the next. In between, they might feel fine and function okay in everyday life—but they might not always accomplish tasks exceedingly well.

Though these emotional ups and downs aren’t as intense as the highs and lows characteristic of bipolar I or II, the unpredictability of the shifts in mood can still significantly impact an individual’s life. It’s important to seek therapy to help manage the symptoms that disrupt functioning and increase the chances of going on to develop a form of bipolar disorder.

What Are the Symptoms of Cyclothymia?

Those with cyclothymia experience both hypomanic and depressive symptoms. Let’s put each of these categories under a magnifying lens. We’ll start with the hypomanic symptoms:

  • Exaggerated feeling of happiness; euphoria
  • Greatly optimistic
  • Exaggerated self-esteem
  • More talkative than normal
  • Lack of good judgment that leads to risky behavior or irresponsible choices
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irritable
  • Hyperactivity
  • Heightened desire to perform or meet goals
  • Less desire to sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Unable to concentrate

Now what about those depressive symptoms…

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in once beloved activities
  • Irritability (especially in children and adolescents)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Changes in weight
  • Difficult sleeping
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

Diagnostic Criteria for Cyclothymia

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), an individual must present the following to be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder:

  • The individual has experienced multiple periods of elevated mood, or hypomanic symptoms, and periods of depressive symptoms for at least two years (one year for children and teens)—these highs and lows occur at least half the time.
  • Periods of stability typically last under two months.
  • The individual’s symptoms significantly affect their work, school, social life, or other important areas.
  • The above symptoms don’t meet the criteria for bipolar I or II, major depression, or another mental disorder.
  • The symptoms are not caused by substance use or a medical condition.

What Causes the Development of Cyclothymia?

The majority of scientists agree that there is not a single cause of bipolar disorders; instead, many factors play a part in the development of these disorders. That said, it is common for individuals with cyclothymia to have biological relatives with major depressive disorder or bipolar I or II, which suggests that genetics do play a role.

Bipolar disorders tend to run in families, but studies of identical twins have suggested that there’s more to it. While some identical twins both develop a form of bipolar disorder, other sets of twins do not share the condition. So, then what other factors are involved? Scientists say individual and environmental factors are significant.

Treatment for Cyclothymia

Therapy is integral in the treatment of cyclothymia and can be administered in a few different ways:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to identify the person’s unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and create healthier ones. CBT works to find the triggers of the symptoms and teaches the strategies for coping with stress and dealing with situations that are upsetting.
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) focuses on stabilizing daily rhythms like sleep and mealtime. Correcting or managing lifestyle issues is important in treating cyclothymia, in that a reliable routine works for better mood management. Additionally, a set diet and exercise routine is helpful.

In addition to therapy—whether it’s CBT or IPSRT—it is crucial that those with cyclothymia avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol abuse is common in people with cyclothymia because when they’re depressed, they feel that having a few drinks will result in the relief of their stress. However, alcohol only makes mood disorders worse, and on top of that, it interferes with sleep.