Mood Swings: What is Normal and What is Not?

Mood Swings - What is Normal and What is Not

Mood Swings

Mood swings are a relatively common phenomenon. On most days, humans go through a wide array of emotions that may influence their overall sense of well-being.

In fact, there are hundreds of biological, psychological, and environmental factors that may cause shifts in mood. Whether it’s a heated argument with your spouse or a stressful event at work, it can be difficult to identify when and what are the causes of mood swings.

It’s important for people to understand that 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, it can sometimes be indicative of mental health conditions for which you may need to see a mental health professional for medical advice.

What’s a mood swing?

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

According to a recent paper published and reviewed in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, ’emotion’ and ‘mood’ are two separate health 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, people could argue that what we describe as a ‘good mood’ is a mix of positive feelings (happiness, hope, love, gratitude) that generate a sense of excitement and readiness. On the other hand, a ‘bad mood’ results from negative emotions (shame, guilt, sadness, disgust) that drain our energy and often push us towards isolation and idleness.

From a neurobiological perspective, emotion – 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.

The sudden changes in mood that result from various causes are sometimes difficult to interpret by the person who experiences them and 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 mood changes may point towards problems like depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

From a biological perspective, lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, hormones, or sleep can significantly influence our day-to-day mood. For example, having low levels of iron, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is associated with decreased energy and a bad mood. Eating a poor-quality diet high in sweet desserts, chocolate, fried food, and high-fat dairy products can lead to a depressive state in some cases.

As for psychological and environmental factors, traumatic events, toxic relationships, or problems at work are associated with negative emotions that can ruin our mood.

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

Also, people need to pay attention to how mood swings impact their daily activities and overall lifestyle. Is it something that affects your work or relationships? Perhaps one way to understand mood swings is by taking the time to understand our emotional reactions.

Mood swings can be caused by hormonal changes, but sometimes can be caused by underlying mental health conditions, an illness or other issues that may require medical attention. Greater self-awareness of our emotions can make us aware of whether our mood swings are normal or require attention.

What are the causes of mood swings?

Understanding why you’re feeling this way and the causes of mood swings can help you to identify if your mood swings are indicative of more serious medical conditions.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal imbalances are especially common in women and can cause mood swings. For example, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which usually occur between one to two weeks before their period, can cause symptoms that include depression, mood swings, headaches, and bloating in women.

Women will see a change in their hormones often because it’s a part of their menstrual cycle. Medications that contain progesterone and estrogen can be a treatment to correct hormonal imbalances associated with rapid mood changes.

Lack of sleep

People who don’t get enough sleep tend to feel negative emotions, including frustration, anger, sadness, and irritability, and cause mood swings. At the same time, sleeplessness is also a sign of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. There are many ways to help with sleep deprivation.

Go to bed at the same time every day and waking up at the same time. Even if you’re tired, avoid taking naps and drinking caffeine within eight hours of your bedtime. If you frequently change your sleep schedule, that can result in even more symptoms of mood swings.

Stress

Chronic stress can lead to mental health issues that cause you to feel bitter, angry, or sad. Stressful situations can happen at home, work, or anywhere. It’s important to find a way to better manage and deal with the stress. For example, exercise is a good way to ease the pressure to help you feel better and prevent the highs and lows of a mood swing.

Are my mood swings indicative of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is considered to be a mental illness where a person experiences extreme changes in their mood. They may feel periods of mania and periods of depression or anxiety.

The only way to know if you have bipolar disorder is to have your symptoms reviewed with a doctor, so they may diagnose whether you have any disorders. It’s always best to seek medical advice so they can help you to get the appropriate treatment. Treatment may include behavioral therapy, medication, and electroconvulsive therapy.

Also, it’s important to distinguish between personality disorder and bipolar disorder. A personality disorder is, in many cases, caused by the events that happened in a person’s childhood. For example, personality disorders may include erratic personality types like narcissistic, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, avoidant, and more. In contrast, bipolar or mood disorder comes more from biological factors although they can be linked to significant childhood events.

Here’s what you can do if you notice shifts in mood:

1. Be mindful of any changes in mood

The first step in getting a handle on your mood swings is identifying when these mood swings occur and what symptoms you have.

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

Whenever you feel like your mood swings have taken a turn for the worse, notice the feelings 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. Once you identify your symptoms, you may start taking action and seeing positive shifts in your life.

For example, if you are experiencing severe depression, start by identifying the cause of mood swings. Depression can come from many factors such as medications, social pressure, lack of confidence, substance misuse, major life events, conflict with a family member, your children or friends.

If you’re having a conflict, you can attempt to resolve the issue by getting on the same page with them. Counseling can be an excellent treatment for mood swings to help you process some of your feelings and the causes of your symptoms.

2. Do a bit of research

Part of exploring your mood swings is researching this topic. Fortunately, we live in a world where information is one click away. A quick Google search and you will find everything about the causes of mood swings and how to better manage, especially in the days ahead.

But since not everything you read online is valid or worth considering, you have to filter your information carefully.

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

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

Mood swings may 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 a case of extreme mood swings, perhaps you should ask for an outside opinion. Talk to your friends or family members about your concerns. Ask them if they’ve noticed your mood changes over the past days, 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 seek medical advice and consult a mental health professional.

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

A doctor may put you on medications that can help you manage any mental health conditions such as severe depressive episodes or generalized anxiety disorder. They also typically are trained in therapeutic approaches to help you cope.

So when should you seek help from a medical professional? If you experience rapid changes in mood or symptoms of depression for over two weeks, getting medical treatment from an experienced counsellor is your best option.

If you are looking for medical advice 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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