cyclothymia and how it makes you feel

What does it feel like to have cyclothymia?

  • Cyclothymia is a mental health condition that results in mood, activity and energy level fluctuations.
    It is a mild form of bipolar disorder.
  • Risk factors include genetics, abnormal neurochemistry in the brain, and environmental factors such as stress and some illicit drugs.
  • Treatments for people living with cyclothymic disorder can be recommended by a health professional. These can include medications or psychological support.

What is cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia is a mental health condition that results in significant changes to people’s mood, activity and energy levels over a period of time. It is also known as cyclothymic disorder.

People who live with the condition experience emotional swings over time. These swings range from a low depressive mood with little energy, to feelings of exuberance and high energy.

Cyclothymia is considered the mildest form of the three levels of bipolar affective disorder1.1. This group of disorders is common. In Australia, bipolar disorders were diagnosed in 7.3 per cent of hospitalisations for adults, making it within the top five frequently recorded diagnoses at discharge.2.

Cyclothymia symptoms have to be present for at least two years for adults to meet the conditions for diagnosis.3. This reduces to more than 12 months for children and adolescents.

But what does it feel like to have cyclothymia? This article will outline the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment for the condition.

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What is cyclothymic disorder?

Cyclothymic disorder is characterised by a person experiencing multiple episodes of altered mood over at least two years.4 These episodes can impact a person’s life, work and relationships.

They are noticeably different from the person’s regular mood and many people who experience cyclothymia will seem to function normally, but may be considered “moody”.5

The mood differences don’t meet the formal classification for hypomania6 (more than four days or abnormal and ongoing high mood and energy) or major depression (ongoing low mood and a loss of pleasure for more than two weeks).

Cyclothymic disorder is considered a chronic, lifelong condition. However, it can be managed to enable the person living with cyclothymia to live well and achieve their potential. Without treatment, some people may develop more severe forms of bipolar disorder .

Cyclothymia often presents during adolescence. A 2011 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, Young Australians found 3.4 per cent of young people aged 16 years to 24 years self-reported bipolar disorders.7

Together, bipolar disorders cause a significant burden of disease – the impact on health, costs, and financial impact.

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What are the symptoms of cyclothymic disorder?

Cyclothymic disorder symptoms include swings in mood from highs to lows that have a significant impact on a person’s life and functioning.

Family, friends and colleagues can be the first people to notice the development of symptoms. When people are experiencing episodes, it can be difficult for them to control their behaviour and thoughts.

Each person living with cyclothymia has a different experience. Some people have a few weeks of low feeling and activity, followed by a few days of high mood. Others cycle through their symptoms more of less frequently. Periods of a stable mood last less than two months.

Australia’s Black Dog Institute highlights some common warning signs of hypomania and bipolar mood disorders. For hypomania it says to look out for:

  • not sleeping (the most common sign)
  • feeling agitated, irritable or having intense emotions
  • energised with ideas and plans
  • rapid thoughts and inability to concentrate
  • increased sexual drive, social activity and activity.

These are some common early warning signs of depression in bipolar disorder more generally:

  • sleep pattern changes and fatigue
  • loss of concentration and motivation
  • reduced interest in activities
  • increased feelings of anxiety and worthlessness.

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What causes cyclothymia?

Research continues into the cause and risk factors of cyclothymia.
When people experience a mood disorder, such as cyclothymia, their brains work differently. Some areas of the brains that control feeling and emotions have been shown to be larger than average in people who experience mood disorders.8 This is believed to impact emotional regulation.

There is a significant genetic element to mood disorders, estimated at about 70 per cent.9 People whose family members experience mood disorders are more likely to experience them as well.

Cyclothymia, and other mood disorders, are known to be caused by abnormal neurochemistry in the brain10. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine act on the brain to cause emotional changes. When neurotransmitters are at abnormal normals, this can impact a person’s mood and activity levels.

Cyclothymic disorder can also be triggered by environmental factors such as stressful events, and some drugs and medications11 . People living with cyclothymia react to external events more readily than people who experience more severe forms of bipolar disorder12 and move between their up and down moods more quickly.

What are the treatments for cyclothymia?

Treatments such as medications, psychological support, and psychological education are recommended for cyclothymia.

This range of treatments are considered important due to the potential to improve the potential long-term impacts of ongoing mood disorders, or a progression to more severe conditions13 .

Medications for cyclothymia

Health professionals may prescribe medications to treat cyclothymia. These include mood stabilisers such as lithium, antipsychotic medications, anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. Medications must be taken as directed by a doctor.

Not all treatments will work well for everyone, and may have side effects.

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Psychological support for cyclothymia

People living with cyclothymia can also manage their condition using cognitive behaviour therapy and wellbeing therap.14

Cognitive behaviour therapy involves identifying thoughts and beliefs and developing strategies to deal with these ideas and reactions. It can be helpful to manage stress and boost coping skills.

A combination of medication and psychological support can help people with bipolar conditions.

Developing routines and mood management can also assist.

Living well with cyclothymia

For most people who live with mood disorders, their condition is highly treatable. Most people live well.

In addition to medications or psychological support as recommended by a medical professional, some people may benefit from developing routines15 and mood management techniques.

Daily mood tracking, sleep monitoring and life event checks can help a person living with cyclothymia to understand and manage their condition. It can help identify mood changes before they become significant episodes.

This is general information only.

We recommend you see a healthcare professional to seek specific advice. Always check with your medical professional if your symptoms continue. All medications and supplements can have side effects. Consult your pharmacist or doctor before starting a new medication, or if your health circumstances have changed.


1. QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Bipolar Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

2. AIWH, Mental health services in Australia,, accessed January 2022.

3. Sekhorn, S. et Gupta, V., Mood Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

4. Black Dog Institute, Bipolar Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

5. Healthline, Cyclothymia,, accessed January 2022.

 6. Black Dog Institute, Bipolar Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

7. AIHW, Young Australians,, accessed January 2022.

8. Sekhorn, S. et Gupta, V., Mood Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

9. QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Bipolar Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

10. Sekhorn, S. et Gupta, V., Mood Disorder,, accessed January 2022.

11. Ibid.

12. Parker, G., Cyclothymia,, accessed January 2022.

13. Perudi, G., et. al., Cyclothymia Reloaded, Journal of Affective Disorders, September 2015,, accessed January 2022.

14. Mayo Clinic, Cyclothymia,,and%20cope%20with%20upsetting%20situations, accessed January 2022.

15. ADA, Signs of cyclothymic disorder,, accessed January 2022.

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