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Written by:Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Published On: May 5, 2022

Medically reviewed by: Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

Reviewed On: May 5, 2022

Updated On: July 5, 2023


What is cyclothymic disorder? If you’re wondering about the ins and outs of this little-talked about condition, you’re not alone. Cyclothymic disorder is a mental health condition that’s also referred to as “cyclothymia” and “bipolar 3 disorder.” It’s the mildest of the 3 types of bipolar disorder (BD), all of which affect mood, energy, and performance.

Cyclothymia is marked by cycling symptoms of depression and hypomania, although unlike bipolar I, and occasionally bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder (on its own) doesn’t cause symptoms to the point of incapacitation, extreme mania, or deep depression.Continue reading to learn more about cyclothymic disorder, including who’s at risk of developing it, its causes, symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, and most importantly, how to treat it. We’ll even look at various holistic lifestyle modifications that can make this treatable mental health condition more manageable.

Symptoms of Cyclothymia

What is cyclothymia? It’s a common question. According to experts, cyclothymia is a “primary mood disorder that is connotated with great ambiguity and controversy” and is characterized by numerous periods consisting of hypomanic and depressive symptoms that do not meet the full criteria for bipolar or major depressive disorder.” In short, it’s a less-severe version of bipolar disorder. That said, cyclothymic disorder symptoms do overlap with some bipolar symptoms of both bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 disorder. For example, it’s common to see bouncing between periods of depression and hypomania in all 3 conditions. However, as noted, cyclothymic disorder’s symptoms aren’t experienced all at once as they can be in bipolar 1 and 2. Most people who live with cyclothymic disorder are typically able to function without significant life disruptions.

Depressive symptoms

Examples of depressive cyclothymic disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling unfounded shame, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Having a reduced or limited capacity to experience pleasure
  • Experiencing changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Having near-daily fatigue

Depressive symptoms of cyclothymia can also include excessive crying, social isolation, and irritability.

Hypomanic symptoms

Examples of symptoms that may result from hypomania in cyclothymic disorder might include:

  • Irritability
  • Distractibility
  • Acting impulsively
  • Talking excessively
  • Feeling extremely euphoric
  • Having high energy levels and a lifted self-confidence
  • Pacing, fidgeting, or exhibiting other nervous behavior

Cyclothymia symptoms can also include having difficulty focusing, believing you need less sleep than you normally would, and having grandiose thinking patterns.

Hypomania symptoms of cyclothymic disorder typically do not include hallucinations, delusions, or other psychotic features, as might be the case with bipolar I.

Causes of Cyclothymia

What is cyclothymic disorder caused by? Like other versions of bipolar disorder, cyclothymia has no known cause. What we do know is it typically begins during teenage years or in early adulthood and it’s seen in females and males about equally. Cyclothymia is often misdiagnosed as another mental health condition, like depression, bipolar disorder, or social anxiety disorder.

Certain factors are thought to increase the risk of developing cyclothymia, including family history of mental illness, anomalies in brain chemistry, or various possible environmental stressors.

How to Get Diagnosed with Cyclothymia

Just like how bipolar is diagnosed, cyclothymia must be diagnosed by a doctor or mental health provider. If you or someone you know is concerned, reach out as soon as possible. A diagnosis can be made after a series of tests are conducted to rule out any other underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to depression or hypomania. It’s also important to make sure that current medications aren’t causing mood swings and symptoms.

With the results of the tests, a psychological evaluation, and based on your mood history and a comprehensive understanding of all symptoms, a diagnosis will be made, and a treatment plan put into place.

“It’s also important to rule out any type of substance abuse or recreational substance use in order to get an accurate diagnosis. This helps providers know the best treatment options to help the patient.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), DD Karmen Smith

Treatment Options for Cyclothymia

It takes time and patience for doctors and therapists to discern the best combination of treatments after a cyclothymic disorder diagnosis.

Most often, treatment involves a combination of prescription medications and talk therapy for bipolar disorder to help stabilize moods, teach new coping mechanisms to reduce symptom frequency and severity, and optimize happiness and the ability to navigate mood symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any specific medications for treating cyclothymia. However, some medications have been approved for how to treat bipolar depression, including some antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.

Therapy for cyclothymia

Several types of online therapy can be helpful when treating cyclothymia, including:

Each of these therapeutic approaches can help people with cyclothymia slow down and pay attention to breathing, thoughts, and behavior to ultimately remain in better control of their actions.

“Most people with cyclothymia do not seek treatment because they don’t feel they have a problem. They may blame others for their strained relationship or job. When they do seek help, it may be in couples counseling or job-related intervention. This can help them get the support that they need as well.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), DD Karmen Smith

Lifestyle choices

If you have cyclothymic disorder and you’re not with your doctor, therapist, or someone else who understands the condition, utilizing coping strategies can help control cyclothymic disorder symptoms. The choices you make in day-to-day life matter, especially if you’re living with a mental health condition.

Making some traditional healthy habits part of your daily routine can be hugely beneficial for minimizing symptoms of cyclothymia. These are bipolar disorder natural treatment techniques that you can do, beginning right now, that cost virtually nothing, other than your time and dedication.

Consider any of the following holistic practices to calm your mind and realign your energy. Coupled with therapy and perhaps medication, they can be game changers.

Learn to meditate: Meditation is an age old practice that teaches you how to identify how your thoughts and feelings develop in real time. This powerful technique is useful for managing symptoms and moods and can help you relax and reset.

Eat healthy: Eating more plants and single-ingredient foods (that aren’t processed) is always a good idea. You don’t have to be unrealistic about your meal plan, though. Splurging in moderation is fine, as long as it is indeed in moderation and not your norm.

Work out: Most people know that getting moderate physical exercise daily, to the point of a light sweat, is recommended for heart health, but it also does wonders for the mind, too.

Get outdoors: Getting out in nature can be very restorative, whether you have cyclothymia or not. Weather permitting, taking a day hike and enjoying the sun and clean air can do your mind and spirit a world of good. Watch some birds or other wildlife and appreciate the calmness and tranquility of your natural surroundings. Use this time to implement your meditation practice and focus on alternatives to some of the unhealthy behaviors you’ve been subjecting yourself to in the past.

Get creative: Expressing your creativity is another beneficial way to battle cyclothymia symptoms. Consider creative outlets like journaling, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, taking pictures, or simply sitting back and enjoying a classic movie. In general, whatever you can do to occupy your mind in a positive way, instead of allowing it to home in on negativity, will be beneficial to controlling your symptoms.Cyclothymic disorder is a serious condition, but with a strategic, thoughtful treatment plan in place, it’s manageable. Proper medication, self-care exercises like those discussed above, and routine therapy — either through the traditional route or via online therapy with a platform like Talkspace — can let you live a productive, happy life and develop rewarding interpersonal relationships. The power to better-manage cyclothymia disorder symptoms is yours.

See References

Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Dr. Karmen Smith is a board-certified Clinical Social Worker in the state of Nevada. She has worked over 20 years for Clark County Family Services with abused and neglected children in the shelter, adolescents in juvenile detention, and adults who have suffered severe trauma. Dr. Smith is a shamanic teacher and minister of metaphysics and her doctorate is in Pastoral Counseling.

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