Mood Swings: Learn everything you need to know
We all have mood swings- it’s part of everyday life. However, not everyone’s mood swings from tree to tree, changing constantly. When changes in mood become hard to deal with, difficult to predict, and over the top, it’s probably due to an underlying cause. So, what are mood swings? What are the signs and symptoms of mood swings? What are the causes of mood swings? What is the treatment of mood swings and remedies for mood swings? How can someone control a mood swing? How do mood swings tie into depression and menopause?
What are mood swings?
Typically viewed as a negative thing, mood swings are a rapid or extreme change in one’s mood. Sometimes, the mood swings are caused by an underlying factor such as bipolar disorder, hormonal changes, or manic depression. The changes in mood can vary between mostly unnoticeable to extreme and depressive. The majority of mood swings range from mild to moderate due to everyday ups and downs. The duration between mood changes can also vary. They can last between a few hours, known as ultrarapid, to days, known as ultradian. The extreme mood changing episodes consist of a change between ultra depression to euphoria and happiness.
While it isn’t bad to have mood swings because they are a normal part of being human, it’s important to get your changes in mood checked out if they happen often or for long periods of time.
Signs and symptoms of mood swings
- Switching between happy and sad within a short amount of time due to no reason
- Sudden loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable in the past
- Feeling easily agitated or irritable
- Long periods of elation, feeling happy
- Excessive energy
- Hedonistic, irritable and risky behavior
Causes of mood swings
Mood swings: Mood disorders
When the mood swing passes four continuous days of hypomania or at least seven days of mania, the person can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Those who have bipolar disorder have mood swings that happen a few times a year where their emotions range from super happy to super sad. A 2011 review found that children who are often thought to have bipolar disorder due to their mood swings actually have other conditions and have been misdiagnosed. Other mood disorders associated with changes in mood include Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
Mood swings: Low blood sugar
We’ve all taken care of kids or been there ourselves- that moment when you can’t anymore. You can’t be happy, you don’t have energy, you don’t want anything… you simply feel grumpy and you don’t know why. Well, it’s probably been a while since your last meal or snack then. Having low blood sugar, something that happens when you don’t eat balanced meals or go without eating for long periods of time can cause fluctuations and changes in the blood sugar which causes mood swings.
Mood swings: Nervous system
When the mood changes aren’t due to a condition such as bipolar disorder, they can be due to a disorder that interferes with the functioning of the nervous system. For example, autism, epilepsy, and ADHD. Autistic fits, essentially just autistic mood swings, are due to changes in neurochemistry and the communication difficulties one faces when autistic. Epileptic seizures change the brain’s electrical wiring and because of it, changes in mood can happen. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is known to be accompanied with short-lived (for the most part) yet dramatic mood changes which can be seen as being forgetful, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness. Other diseases that can affect one’s mood and that play into the nervous system are multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, celiac disease, and Huntington’s disease.
How do mood swings work?
Everyone has neurotransmitters in their brains that help the brain communicate within itself and throughout the body. When someone has an abnormal level of neurotransmitters, it’s been proven that it can cause a mood disorder which can result in changes in mood. Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is a neurotransmitter whose role is to regulate learning, physical arousal, and memory. When there is an imbalance of norepinephrine in the brain, it’s easier to change moods and it may result in depression. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that play a part in moods, sleep, and emotions. When there is an imbalance of serotonin in the body, there will be an imbalance within the person’s moods, emotions, and sleep which could, like an imbalance of norepinephrine, result in depression (serotonin is one of the main components in many antidepressants). Other neurotransmitters that deal with mood are GABA, acetylcholine, and dopamine.
However, it isn’t just an imbalance of neurotransmitters that can cause mood swings. Slow and interrupted neurotransmitters have been linked to mental illness. How does that work? Well, nerve impulses that move along the brain’s axons (long cellular shaped cords in the brain) move until they land on a presynaptic membrane. Presynaptic membranes are what house the neurotransmitters until they are ready to be sent off to be collected by the receptors from another neuron. The neuron that catches the neurotransmitter internalizes it and then the nerve impulses go on with the message the neurotransmitter was carrying (e.x. if the neurotransmitter was dopamine, its message would be to be happier). When the neurotransmitter is norepinephrine or serotonin and it gets interrupted, depression and anxiety can result. Both conditions that carry mood swings on their common symptoms list. They occur because these specific neurotransmitters are what regulate mood. When the neurotransmitter is unable to get its message across, the mood can’t be regulated and goes a bit haywire and crazy.
Think about an airplane doing a long flight. In order to do the five flights safely, the plane needs to gas up at each airport stop (blood sugar), wheels (norepinephrine), have completely functioning wings (serotonin), and a pilot (the brain). The pilot is in charge of making sure everything is good to go before taking off. Now, the plane is in the air and the pilot realizes that they didn’t gas up with the good type of gas or that he doesn’t have enough gas to make it to their destination (having a balanced meal) and the plane isn’t reacting well to that. Or, the plane is in the air and one of the wings breaks (the serotonin levels are off- like the balance of the plane is now off). It would be near impossible to stay flying steadily. Or, the plane is getting ready to land and one of the wheels blow (the norepinephrine levels are off) and the plane is unable to land without lots of bumps and the possibility of falling over. In each of these scenarios, it’s near impossible for the plane to continue safely. Just like the plane, our moods can’t function if our bodies aren’t processing the neurotransmitters or having the correct kind of fuel put into them.
Mood swings and depression
Depression and changes in mood can sometimes work hand-in-hand. While you can have mood changes without being depressed, if left untreated, your mood could turn into being depressed. Depression is often caused by a mix of psychological (personality, learned responses, etc.), environmental (stress, illness, etc.), and biological factors (hormones, genetic predisposition, etc.). When these factors mix together within our bodies, depression can be the result due to the abnormal functioning in the areas of the brain that are in charge of thought and mood. This can then result in us feeling slower, a bit down, and sad when our mood isn’t great.
When someone with depression has a neurotransmitter that gets interrupted, rather than sending the message made by the serotonin or norepinephrine to a neuron, it instead gets sent back to its original location in the presynaptic membrane. Antidepressants help with this by stopping these neurotransmitters and hormones from returning to the presynaptic membrane by using a process called reuptake. Many people who take antidepressants take what are known as SSRIs- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. The result of this medication is that the broken neurotransmitter signals are repaired, with more serotonin activity taking place, reduced symptoms for depression, and fewer mood swings because of it.
Mood swings and hormones
For women, mood swings aren’t uncommon. With hormone fluctuations, it’s impossible not to go through a few of them. This is because hormones (especially our sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) directly affect brain chemistry. The most common people to get mood swings are teens because their hormones are trying to level out but fluctuating constantly, pregnant women, and women going through menopause.
Men tend to have more stable mood levels until around age 30. At 30, testosterone levels begin to gradually decline. 1/3 of men over the age of 75 have low levels of testosterone which are associated with sleeping problems, erectile dysfunction, and hot flashes.
Therapy for mood swings
The best therapy for mood swings is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is because this type of therapy uses emotional dampeners to help break the self-reinforcing patterns and tendencies of manic or depressive mood swings. A big part of the therapy is to learn how to bring oneself down to earth while they are in a mood swing. People also often try exercising, using distractions, watching TV, or accomplishing little goals daily to help break away from the depressive mood swings.
Tips to control a mood swing
In addition to therapy, there are medications, known as mood stabilizers, that help keep one’s chronic mood from being too high and too low. The best mood stabilizers on the market are:
- Lithium- good for treating manic (super happy) moods
- Valproic acid- anticonvulsant
- Lamotrigine- anticonvulsant, good for treating depressive moods
- Carbamazepine- anticonvulsant
It also helps to try and prevent the mood swing before it happens by leading a balanced lifestyle, changing your perspective if necessary, and determining the causes for the changes in mood to better treat the underlying cause.
There are several things to try and remedy a mood swing and to keep them a bit more under control.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to have a good day and it’s been proven that (chronic) sleep deprivation can affect one’s mood and overall health greatly.
- Relax. Try using techniques such as yoga and mindfulness meditation to keep yourself calmer. It’s been proven that using these techniques can actually improve one’s overall mood and helps to regulate emotions.
- Keep a routine for yourself- especially for sleeping and eating- to try and keep yourself regulated and less stressed.
- Avoid stress. Impossible, I know. However, at least try to manage and relieve stress as much as possible.
- Exercise. Exercising regularly has multiple benefits that help not just your mood, but your overall health.
- Talk to someone. Using cognitive behavioral therapy and getting a therapist (or a friend) to talk to is a great way to alleviate some of the built up emotions.
- Find an outlet and express yourself. Whether that be painting, volunteering at the local animal shelter, or exercising, it’s always good to have a place to let your emotions fly away.
- Eat well. Eating well and often enough to not have low blood sugar is vital to keeping a good mood and avoiding mood changes. Not only can a good, balanced mood improve your bad mood, but it can also keep your mood ‘good’ for longer periods of time in addition to regulating your overall moods better.
How do you deal with mood swings? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.