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Helen M Farrell M.D.
Helen M Farrell M.D.

March Madness: 7 Signs of Hypomania

Spring into health and happiness

As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological clocks” or circadian rhythm. This is due to in part to changes in sunlight patterns. Scientists attribute that lingering feeling of “blah” during winter months to increased secretion of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. The hormone increases when days are shorter and darker and can contribute to depression.

Now that spring is on its way, we expect to see a peak in something psychiatrists call hypomania. Independently, hypomania is associated with increased creativity and productivity. People tend to feel very happy when they’re hypomanic—a welcome change from the doldrums of depression. So long as the hypomanic individual remains fully functioning, there is no problem.

How do you know if you’re fully functioning?

According to Freud, you retain the ability to do 3 things; Work, Play and Love. Hypomania has been theorized to contribute to the successes of many thought leaders, celebrities, professionals, and creative geniuses. It is a problem, however, if risky behaviors emerge.

Hector Berlioz had problems with mania. Bestselling author Kay Redfield Jamison, who struggles with mania, reported that during the composer's breaks from music his mind became “feebler” and feelings “grew more intense.” Brilliant writers including Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Tennesee Williams are also linked to mania. Carrie Fisher, who may be best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, has spoken about her manic experiences to the American Psychiatric Association.

When hypomania crosses the line and leads to dangerous activity or psychotic thinking (grandiosity, paranoia, hallucinations), then a pathological process called mania is happening. It’s important to recognize the signs of hypomania, because for some people it can lead to mania or a major depressive episode. These are serious psychiatric conditions, sometimes leading to suicide, that need the attention of a skilled psychiatrist.

7 signs of hypomania:

1) Confidence/Assertiveness: Suddenly the life of the party? Demanding a raise from your boss? Telling people how great you are?

2) Increased/Unrealistic activities: Starting the next great American novel? Painting your entire home in one night? Triple-booking appointments for yourself?

3) Energetic: Staying up all night to save the world? Feeling like you have more endurance than usual?

4) Racing thoughts: Thinking about a thousand things at once? Jumping from one topic to a totally unrelated one during conversation?

5) Distractible/Irritable: Having trouble paying attention? Got a short fuse?

6) Hypersexual: Feeling extra frisky? Doing impulsive things like speeding or shopping until you drop?

7) Talkative: Having trouble slowing down your speech?

When the symptoms above coalesce to produce an extremely goal-oriented and focused individual, hypomania can be a good thing. The key is that functional people in a hypomanic state are able to keep their goals rational and concise, and they can plan around them accordingly.

There are a lot of causes of hypomania, one of which is the change in season. As we spring ahead, make sure that your thoughts and activities don’t spring out of control. Genetic predispositions, where close family members are hypomanic or manic, can also put you at risk. So can intoxication from drugs and alcohol. Prescription medications, like steroids and antidepressants, can produce hypomania as a side effect. Some general medical conditions like thyroid disease, seizures, and multiple sclerosis can also generate wild elevations in mood.

So go ahead and spring into this new season with optimal health and happiness! Just make sure that in the midst of the long sunny days, you are still sufficiently capable of coherent thoughts and actions.

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About the Author
Helen M Farrell M.D.

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. She researches forensic psychiatry and violence.

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