Mood Swings: What is Normal and What is Not?

Mood Swings - What is Normal and What is Not

Mood swings are a relatively common phenomenon. On an average day, humans go through a wide array of emotions that can influence their overall sense of well-being.

In fact, there are hundreds of biological, psychological, and environmental factors that can impact your mood. From a heated argument with your spouse to a terrible migraine that keeps you up at night, there’s no way of telling when and how your mood might fluctuate.

To a certain extent, mood swings are relatively normal. It’s impossible to experience the same emotion (at the same intensity) throughout the entire day. However, if your overall mood tends to fluctuate for no apparent reason, you might want to look into this problem.

What’s a mood swing?

Mood swings are sudden changes in your emotional state. Although they seem to come out of nowhere, any shift in your mood is triggered by a specific factor. But since it would be exhausting to analyse every emotion that we experience throughout the day, we often tend to overlook the occasional mood swings that affect our disposition.

According to a recent paper published in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, ‘emotions’ and ‘mood’ are two separate phenomena. While the term ‘mood’ describes our level of mental energy at a specific moment, ‘emotions’ are sensations that drive our decisions, actions, and behaviour.

In a way, we could argue that what we describe as ‘good mood’ is a mix of positive emotions (happiness, hope, love, gratitude) that generate a sense of excitement and readiness. On the other hand, a ‘bad mood’ is the result of negative emotions (shame, guilt, sadness, disgust) that drain our energy and often push us towards isolation and idleness.

From a neurobiological perspective, emotions – and the mood they generate – are processed in the same brain areas. More specifically, some of the primary structures involved in emotional processing are the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and limbic system.

Sudden changes in mood that result from various causes are sometimes difficult to interpret by the person who experiences them, as well as by those around them. That’s why mood swings can often cause difficulties in our day-to-day social interactions.

Do mood swings point toward emotional problems?

Although mood swings are in general harmless and relatively normal, there are times when abrupt changes in mood may point towards problems like depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

From a biological perspective, factors like diet, exercise, hormones, or sleep can significantly influence our day-to-day mood.

As for psychological and environmental factors, traumatic events, toxic relationships, or problems at work can trigger all sorts of negative emotions that can ruin our mood.

But the real question is, how often do we experience mood swings? And more importantly, how long does a ‘bad’ mood last?

Also, it’s important to pay attention to how mood swings impact our daily activities. Is it something that prevents you from performing at your best? Is it something that affects your relationships?

Since our overall mood is determined by the emotions we experience as a result of various factors, perhaps one way to understand mood swings is by taking the time to understand our emotional reactions.

Here’s what you can do if you’re feeling moody:

1. Be mindful of your mood swings

The first step in getting a handle on your mood swings is awareness, or, to be more specific, self-awareness.

Unfortunately, many of us are so caught up with our busy lives that we often overlook the emotional changes that influence our mood. And that’s why we end up feeling like mood swings hit us out of nowhere.

If you wish to gain a better understanding of why your mood fluctuates, you can start by paying close attention to your emotions.

Whenever you feel like your mood has taken a turn for the worse, notice the emotions that you’re experiencing at that given moment. Is it sadness? Frustration? Guilt? Disgust?

And most importantly, try to figure out why you’re experiencing that unpleasant feeling. Because once you identify the source of your emotion, you can start taking real steps toward improving your mood.

2. Do a bit of research

Part of exploring your mood swings is researching this topic. In other words, you need to do a bit of light reading to understand what you’re going through.

Fortunately, we live in a world where information is one click away. A quick Google search and you will find everything you need to know about emotions, mood swings, and the problems you might (or might not) be dealing with.

But since not everything you read online is valid or worth taking into consideration, you need to filter your information carefully.

If you wish to educate yourself about mood swings, use reputable sources that rely on solid scientific evidence and leave no room for subjective interpretations, or speak to a mental health professional.

3. Don’t be ashamed to ask for social support

Mood swings can be difficult to manage, especially when you’re caught up in a roller coaster of emotions that generate confusion and self-doubt.

It’s hard to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy,’ or ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ when you’re the one experiencing these sudden emotional fluctuations.

If you find yourself in this situation, perhaps it’s best outside opinion. Talk to your friends or family members about your concerns. Ask them if they’ve noticed over the past few weeks or months.

4. Consult a mental health professional

If you’re dealing with frequent mood swings that affect your daily life, perhaps it’s time to consult a mental health professional.

Considering that mood swings can sometimes indicate the presence of a serious emotional problem, getting a thorough evaluation from an accredited mental health professional is the ideal way to get a clear picture of what you’re going through.

If you need to seek help from a mental health professional, contact the Counselling in Melbourne team today.

The bottom line, the difference between normal and abnormal mood swings boils down to figuring out how your emotional state influences your day-to-day life.

About the editor, Poorni Selvaraja

About the editor, Poorni Selvaraja

Poorni Selvaraja, Psychologist Registrar, BA(Psych); Hons (Psych); MPsych (Clinical) is studying to become a clinical psychologist. Poorni has had extensive experience within international settings, which has given her exposure to many mental health adversities and challenges within different societies and communities.

Find out more about Poorni Selvaraja

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