Mood swings are sudden shifts in mood (often described as emotional roller coaster rides) that can range from Different feelings and irritability. Mood swings can make you feel like you are crying more, feeling empty inside, or swinging suddenly from happy to sad and back again. It can be normal, as everyone experiences it from time to time. But, if they are intense and cause disruption in your daily life (like work or relationships), it may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment.
There are many causes of underlying mood swings:
Biology, psychology, environment, and three factors that combine to influence the mood of an individual:
Internal as well as external changes can affect our mind-environment relationship resulting in shifts in mood. Our interaction with our environment and experiences has to do a lot, with how we think, act, and feel. Thought patterns that include our thoughts, interpretation of events, and self-talk can affect our mood. Negative thought patterns may lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. Past memories and experiences can evoke certain emotional responses, and influence our mood in the present. Our ability to cope with stress and challenges is majorly influenced by our internal forces. Problem-solving, seeking support, and using available resources can be healthy coping mechanisms to enhance positive mood regulation.
Hormones are chemicals that send messages from the brain to the organs; they control the function and health of the organs. If there are imbalances in hormones, it can affect the way we feel, and lead to mood swings like irritability, sadness, depression and anxiety. Hormone imbalances can lead to dysregulation of neurotransmitters that can leave you feeling low, demotivated and anxious. In women, mood swings can appear a week or some days before getting their period, also called as Premenstrual syndrome. The hormonal shifts can lead to changes in their moods. Mood swings can occur in men due to imbalances in hormones such as high cortisol and low testosterone levels.
The psychological aspects underlying mood swings can also include stressful life changes such as changing environments, and major relationship changes, which can induce stress and trigger mood swings. These situations highly demand adjustment and adaptation. If you engage in substance abuse, such as drugs or alcohol, it can contribute to mood swings. Substance use may initially provide a temporary escape, but the subsequent withdrawal or the effects of intoxication can lead to emotional instability. Especially if there is excess use of it. Individuals may be prone to experience mood swings during the time of quitting substances as well. Traumatic events or childhood abuse are found to be a risk factor for developing mood disorders in the later period of life.
Sleep patterns including irregular or insufficient sleep can contribute to mood swings. The lack of sleep can reduce cognitive functioning and can lead to irritability and heightened stress.
Fluctuations in blood sugar levels (related to diet) also have a role to play in influencing mood. Consuming a diet that has imbalanced nutrition can contribute to mood swings. Regular exercise or any physical activity has been shown to improve our mood and well-being.
When do mood swings become a problem for someone?
Normal mood swings don’t interfere too much with daily living, but if the mood swings get too frequent, or reportedly extreme, it may be crucial to contact a professional. Here are characteristics that you should look out for:
- Unpredictable: frequent fluctuations in moods, but without any warning sign.
- Uncontrollable: emotional responses that seem inappropriate reactions to events and are beyond your control.
- Extreme: where moods are experienced as intense high and low.
- Affects your thoughts, behavior, and day-to-day functioning.
- Disruption in daily life causes problems for the individual and others.
If your mood swings identify with the majority of these characteristics, it may become a problem.
The difference between normal mood swings, and mood disorders is that mood disorders show a consistent pattern of symptoms that occur together, whenever a significant mood disturbance occurs (collection of symptoms is called a syndrome). Problematic mood swings are severe, long-lasting, or interfere with daily life, while normal mood swings are occasional shifts in emotions in response to everyday events.
Mood swings that are experienced for long periods of time can lead to disorders such as:
- Dysthymia (Chronic minor depression), Major depressive disorder (unipolar disorder), and Manic depressive disorder (bipolar disorder).
- Bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder) is a mood disorder that causes intense shifts in mood, energy, thinking patterns, and behavior. It may involve cycles of depressive episodes and manic or hypomanic episodes. Mania is characterized by elevated mood, increased energy, impulsivity, and decreased need for sleep.
How to deal with mood swings?
Recording your thoughts, feelings, and moods can help you identify and avoid triggering behaviors. As you write down your feelings, you are able to vent.
Mood-tracking apps that are available on phones can help you record how you are feeling at different intervals of the day. Mood tracker can help build emotional and self-awareness, as you log your emotions and write about what might have caused them. Understanding your moods and how you feel in certain situations can make you understand yourself better, and help with self-regulation and management.
Meditation and Yoga:
Research has found that meditation and yoga help manage and regulate negative moods better than those who don’t practice yoga. Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing on the present moment, and accepting your thoughts without any judgment. We let the negative thoughts and feelings come and go, rather than getting entangled or overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness also involves stepping back mentally, and perceiving situations from a ‘helicopter view’. This can help individuals see things more objectively and with more clarity.
Yoga exercises can induce body movement, through its combination of physical postures (asanas), and controlled breathing (pranayama). This can help normalize hormonal fluctuations (by promoting relaxation and stress reduction) and release neurotransmitters like dopamine, and serotonin. The enhanced mind-body connection can help be more balanced in physiological and psychological processes.
Venting out to a trusted friend or family can help release your feelings. If mood swings are causing a significant amount of distress in your daily functioning, it is advisable that you seek support from a mental health professional, who can assist you with the disturbances you may be facing.