What Causes Mood Swings and How to Manage Them
Do you sometimes find yourself feeling elated and excited one minute and then sad and irritable a few moments later? Or, how about suddenly feeling down or frustrated for no apparent reason?
Shifting moods throughout the day can make you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. They can also make you wonder if these mood swings are normal and what you can do to stop being so moody.
What are mood swings?
Mood swings refer to the rapid or sudden changes in a person’s mood or emotional state. They may occur as a response to certain situations or environments, or even due to a physical or mental health illness.
It is, however, not uncommon for mood swings to occur for no obvious reasons. They may cause a person to switch from being up or happy to feeling down, angry, or irritable.
We all get moody or go through a period of feeling overjoyed or blue. We may feel extremely happy and invincible on some days and feel gloomy or pessimistic on other days.
If you, on the other hand, experience frequent mood swings that affect your behaviors or daily function, it could be a sign of something more serious. Seeing a mental health professional for therapy can be a great help.
Why am I so moody?
The exact cause of mood swings is not known. One theory is that they, along with other mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders), are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. While there may be some truth to this, it also oversimplifies the complex and multidimensional nature of mental illnesses.
Generally, however, lifestyle factors contribute to the development of mood swings. These can include your diet, sleeping habits, and medications.
If you are constantly asking yourself “Why am I so moody all the time”, the following reasons may be the culprit:
- Poor or inadequate sleep
- Eating an unhealthy diet
- Taking medications that impact sleep or mood
- Excessive use of drugs and alcohol
- Underlying mental health problems
A sudden or unexplained shift in mood can also be due to life changes or difficulties you are experiencing right now:
- Being under an undue amount of stress
- Hormonal shifts that occur during puberty, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, and menopause
- Spending too much time at work (or being away from your loved ones for long periods of time)
- Having chronic diseases or acute injuries that affect the brain (stroke, concussion, dementia)
- Certain neurological disorders
For severe and frequent mood changes, it could be due to an underlying condition. It is also worth noting that some mood-altering conditions can affect all genders, while others only affect women.
How do hormones affect moods and behaviors?
Fluctuations in hormone levels, which affect the brain’s chemistry, can also contribute to mood swings. This is particularly true for estrogen and progesterone, which is associated with serotonin production, a chemical/neurotransmitter that boosts mood.
Changes in the levels of both hormones, along with other factors, disrupt the production of serotonin, resulting in mood swings in menopause, PMS, and pregnancy.
This is common:
- During puberty (for some teens, highs and lows can be overwhelming to handle)
- Menstrual cycle (usually 2 weeks before) or premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Pregnancy (usually the 1st trimester, and again on the 3rd)
- Menopause (or during the transition to menopause)
How about contraceptives? Can birth control cause mood swings? The answer varies from person to person. Some notice improvements in their mood while on birth control, while others experience adverse effects. It can also depend on the type of birth control method.
Which mental disorders are associated with rapid mood swings?
Dramatic or extreme mood swings can be associated with mental illnesses, including:
Previously referred to as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic or intense shifts in mood, energy, behavior, and thinking. These are more severe compared to the ups and downs experienced by most people, and last longer than typical mood swings.
If you have bipolar disorder, you may experience mood swings that can range from extreme highs (mania/hypomania) to extreme lows (depression), called mood episodes.
There are also cases where some people may experience both symptoms at the same time, which are called mixed episodes. Those with the said disorder also experience periods of neutral mood, known as eurythmia.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
Also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by extreme shifts in mood and trouble controlling/regulating emotions. Those who have BPD may experience intense emotions or episodes of anger, anxiety, and depression that can last from a few hours to days.
Due to the difficulties in managing emotions, BPD can lead to instability and insecurity, poor self-image, self-doubt, and unstable relationships. People with BPD also don’t deal with stress well and struggle with feelings of emptiness, fear of both attachment and abandonment, and paranoid thoughts. Some also resort to self-harm or self-injury like cutting when they feel extremely upset or unsettled.
Also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder (MDD), depression is a chronic mental illness that can severely affect the way you feel, think, and behave. Those with MDD experience prolonged and persistent feelings of sadness, and a loss of interest in normally enjoyed activities. Depression may also cause you to have angry outbursts, even over trivial matters.
Depression can contribute to several physical and emotional problems, as well as difficulties in daily functioning or performing day-to-day activities.
If you have been feeling extremely sad, hopeless, and drained for at least two weeks, it is best to call your doctor or see a therapist. Fortunately, depression is treatable with medication alone or psychotherapy alone, or a combination of both.
How to deal with mood swings
If your mood swings don’t disrupt different aspects of your life, you may be able to work through them with positive lifestyle habits. This is especially true for mild and occasional shifts in mood.
Below are a few things that can help:
- Get enough sleep – Without enough sleep, you’re more likely to feel exhausted, which can lead to further sadness and irritability. Aim to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping well is also particularly important when you’re dealing with mood swings in pregnancy.
- Engage in regular physical activity – Exercise triggers your body to produce endorphins, the feel-good hormones. These can lift your mood and help you control stress, with the added benefit of improving your sleep. Go for a daily walk or jog, follow an exercise routine online, or ride your bicycle.
- Practice relaxation – Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and tai chi. These can calm both your mind and body, while also reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- Talk it out – Reach out to trusted friends and loved ones to share whatever it is you’re feeling. Just being listened to can make you feel loved, supported, and cared for. You can also talk to a therapist if you don’t feel like sharing with the people you know.
- Try journaling – Keeping a record of your emotions and dramatic mood shifts may help you understand why they happen. If you notice any triggers (situations or activities that impact your mood), you may be able to avoid them. You can also share your journal with a therapist to sort out what’s going on.
- Find an outlet to express yourself – When you’re finding it hard to voice out what you’re feeling, you can turn to something creative to express yourself. It can be through painting/drawing, music, writing, dancing, or crafting. Find out what works best for you.
Know when to seek help
If you’re finding it hard to deal with mood swings or if they get in the way of your work, relationship, and other aspects of your life, see a mental health professional. Having significant mood shifts or unpredictable behavior for 2 weeks or longer may mean something more serious.
This is especially true if:
- You can’t sleep, focus at work, see friends and loved ones, or get out of bed.
- You’re thinking about ending your life or inflicting harm on yourself.
- You feel extremely ecstatic and high-strung, to the point that it’s making you engage in risky or uncontrollable behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors that add more stress to your life. It enables you to detect and challenge unhelpful self-beliefs that can result in negative moods and actions.
There is also dialectical behavior therapy, which is beneficial in helping those with BPD to manage intense shifts in mood and practising self-compassion.
So, if you feel that extreme mood swings have taken over your life or if you’ve been feeling unwell or unhappy for a long period of time, don’t hesitate to consider therapy. You can also do this at home through online therapy platforms like Calmerry that connect you to a wide range of licensed therapists.