Cognitive Insights: How a Person with Bipolar Thinks

This article will help you develop cognitive insights into how a person with bipolar thinks. Understanding what bipolar thinking is and how it works can help you foster empathy, understanding, and support for individuals living with bipolar disorder. 


If you know someone with bipolar disorder, you might wonder: how do bipolar people think? Sometimes people with bipolar disorder have different thoughts and behaviors than other people. These bipolar thinking patterns are often related to significant mood and emotional state shifts. Understanding a person with bipolar thinks can help you determine when it’s time to get professional help for yourself. It can help you better understand bipolar thinking so you can provide empathy and support and learn how to encourage those around you.

A person with a bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depressive disorder, is a mental health condition where individuals experience severe mood swings that can last for months or years and are divided into one of two episodes:

  1. Manic episodes
  2. Depressive episodes

During both manic and depressive episodes, individuals might experience unique thought patterns because of their emotional state, and these thought patterns can manifest in many forms, all of which are referred to as “bipolar thinking.”

Different episodes are called severe mood shifts as a result of changes in energy levels. Symptoms can vary greatly from one individual to the next, but no matter the type of symptoms, they can affect daily function and the ability to interact with other people. 

There is a great deal of complexity and diversity in terms of how a person with bipolar thinks, and the better you can understand these thought patterns, the better you’ll be able to connect with someone and provide support or empathy for them during their episodes.

How a person with bipolar thinks

Your mood is a state of mind, not just an emotional response. So, bipolar disorder is considered a mood disorder because it changes an individual’s state of mind. By changing their state of mind or mood, symptoms of bipolar disorder can affect how someone thinks and the decisions they make.

Individuals in a depressive episode will think much differently than someone who is just experiencing mild sadness. Similarly, someone who is experiencing a manic episode will think much differently than a person who is acutely happy.

Given the fact that these states of depression or Mania can be prolonged, individuals with bipolar disorder will have long periods where they experience compromised thought patterns and behaviors. During these states, it can be difficult to communicate effectively with other people, which is why it’s important to understand how a bipolar person thinks.

Bipolar thinking

Common thinking patterns in bipolar disorder

Black-and-white thinking

Black-and-white thinking is sometimes called dichotomous thinking. It’s when a person with bipolar disorder automatically assigns actions, people, and things as good or bad. Everything is split into good or bad. This means that things are viewed in an extreme form and not necessarily in their accurate form. Black-and-white thinking often involves words like:

  • Perfect
  • Disaster
  • Impossible
  • Furious
  • Ruined
  • Never
  • Always 

Rapid, racing thoughts

Bipolar thinking patterns include rapid, racing thoughts that tend to happen during a manic stage. Rapid, racing thoughts are often repetitive and overwhelming. This is when an individual with bipolar disorder might focus on a single topic or several lines of a single thought and have racing thoughts about things like an embarrassing moment, phobia, or financial issue.

Hyperfocus during manic episodes

What do bipolar people think? During manic episodes, they will have hyperfocus. This is usually manifested as starting several projects at the same time but never completing any of them. When individuals lock into an activity with hyperfocus, they become absorbed in it sometimes without stopping. There’s a decreased need for sleep, euphoria, and increased activity.

Lack of focus during depressive episodes

Conversely, during depressive episodes, people will experience the opposite, a lack of focus. This can manifest as an inability to stay engaged or interested, not having the energy to start any task, decreased energy, and a need for extra sleep.

Understanding how a bipolar person thinks

Understanding how a person with bipolar thinks can help you better comprehend what might seem like off-the-wall or irrational thought patterns during different manic or depressive episodes.

Someone with bipolar disorder will experience emotional sensitivity. This emotional sensitivity can manifest in the form of things like black-and-white thinking, where one action or person triggers an emotional state which, in turn, triggers a black-and-white thought process.

Similarly, people with bipolar will go through severe cyclic mood swings, making it difficult to concentrate, encourage risk-taking behavior, and distort thoughts in several ways. However, some strategies and therapies can be used to mitigate these risks.

Navigating bipolar thinking: strategies and therapies

Understanding bipolar thinking patterns is just the first step. All of these thought processes can be managed with different bipolar strategies and therapies.

Importance of professional help and medication

Bipolar disorder is not something that can be treated or cured. Instead, it is something that you have to learn to manage for the rest of your life. That’s why it is important to seek professional help and medication. Bipolar disorder can be managed effectively with regular medication to deal with chronic symptoms and ongoing therapy and lifestyle changes to help with acute symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and its role in managing bipolar thinking

Cognitive behavioral therapy serves an important role in managing bipolar thinking. With the help of a therapist, you can learn to do things like control racing thoughts by acknowledging that they are just noise, that they are something your mind will sometimes do, and that it’s okay. When you work with a therapist and learn techniques like giving yourself permission to have racing thoughts, it gives you a sense of control over something that might have previously felt helpless. When you put your bipolar thinking in the proper context, it becomes easier to manage.

Mindfulness and other self-help strategies

Practicing mindfulness and similar self-help strategies can help you change your thought patterns. You can do things like close your eyes and focus on your inhalations. Focusing on your inhalations can sometimes break the cycle of certain bipolar thinking patterns by distracting your mind, focusing on your breath, and bringing your attention back to the present.

Lifestyle changes that can help in managing bipolar disorder

Several lifestyle changes can help you manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, including bipolar thinking. This will look different for everyone, and it’s something that you can determine with the help of a professional therapist or psychiatrist. In general, however, many lifestyle changes you can employ include changes to what you eat, your sleep patterns, exercise routine, meditation, and mindfulness.


There is no single medication prescribed as part of a catastrophic thinking treatment plan, but when you work with a professional mental health provider, they can discuss medications that might be appropriate for treating underlying conditions that are causing catastrophic thinking. This can include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti Anxiety medications
  • SSRIs
  • Antipsychotics

Practical Tips

If you struggle with catastrophic thinking disorder, you can learn how to manage on a daily basis with practical tips that can be used in conjunction with therapy and medication. Consider the following:

  • Practice mindfulness so that you can turn your attention inward instead of outward.
  • Try yoga or other exercises, where you can focus on your breathing and poses instead of ruminating over the past or worrying about the future.
  • Keep a journal where you can write down the worst-case scenarios that you imagine and how you would deal with them. This helps you recognize that you have a plan, so you don’t need to be anxious or catastrophize over future events or feelings.
  • Say some of your negative thoughts out loud. Sometimes simply saying what you are thinking can help you recognize how irrational your thoughts really are and learn how to stop catastrophic thinking yourself.
A person with a bipolar disorder

Summing up

Now you have gathered cognitive insights into how a person with bipolar thinks. It is important that you maintain empathy and awareness for individuals with bipolar disorder. If you or someone close to you is struggling with bipolar disorder and bipolar thinking patterns that are detrimental, it’s important to seek professional help where necessary and use other bipolar strategies and therapies to manage bipolar thinking.