No one’s mood stays the same in all circumstances, and perhaps should not stay the same if we are to meaningfully interact with the people in our lives and the world at large. If we experience the same mood whether we succeed or fail, whether we are praised or criticized, then it certainly cannot be considered normal, and most of us experience changes in mood in response to those situations.
But just for that reason we cannot say that everyone has mood swings. The term “mood swings” is best reserved for the person who has fluctuations in mood more frequently and for greater duration of time, and maybe even without an external trigger. One experiencing mood swings will feel on top of the world one moment (mania), only to feel down in the dumps after some time (depressive mood), fluctuating alternately between these states of feeling or moods.
Since mood swings can sometimes be problematic, let us explore it in greater detail so that we can be the master of our moods to the extent desirable, and not be a slave to them.
Causes Of Mood Swings
Mood swings happen due to genetic reasons, and environmental triggers usually in those genetically susceptible. It has been well documented that mood swings and bipolar disorder (a mental disorder typically characterized by mood swings) tend to occur in more than one family member, pointing to a genetic component in its causation.
In fact, a gene has been identified as responsible for bipolar disorder. Moreover, it has been found that those with an artistic bent of mind or the so-called creative people have greater susceptibility to mood swings and also bipolar disorder. Environmental factors that can cause mood swings are exposure to stress either at work or on the domestic front in the form of major events or changes in life such as loss of job, beginning a new line of work or marriage; alcohol addiction; substance abuse such as that of cocaine; and decreased sleep.
Activity of certain chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and dopamine has been found to be low in those with bipolar disorder. Endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism or hyperactivity of HPA axis (the interconnection between three different endocrine glands) can cause mood swings. Other factors shown to trigger mood swings are medications like corticosteroids and levodopa, closed head injury, hemodialysis, and encephalitis.
Myths About Mood Swings
Mood Swings Are Nothing But Bipolar Disorder
While it is true that people with bipolar disorder have mood swings, it does not follow that all those who have mood swings have the disorder.
In bipolar disorder, the mood swings are not only more severe and longer lasting, but also more importantly they impair one’s functioning either at a job or in carrying out domestic duties, which is not the case with ordinary mood swings.
Mood swings are more common in women
This is not true because both men and women are equally susceptible. Men, too, sometimes take a ride on the emotional roller-coaster. Of course, it could be the case that women are more likely to talk about their mood swings than men.
Mood Swings Are An Uncommon Phenomenon
Mood swings are not all that uncommon, extrapolating from the statistics available for treated bipolar disorder cases. For instance, every year in the US nearly 6 million people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Mood Swings Foster Creativity
If you are a creative person, during periods of mania your productivity could increase, but that is only an increase in quantity and not the quality of your work. For instance, if you are a painter, mood swings are certainly not the passport to becoming a Picasso.
Mania Can Be A G0od Thing
Portrayals of manic episodes in the popular media can generate the false perception among public that highly elated moods and seemingly inexhaustible energy levels are a thing to be looked forward to. But sadly that is not always the case. A person having a manic episode can become irritable, edgy and even angry after the initial flush of joy and elation. Many exhibit loss of control of their thoughts and actions.
They may start splurging and go on a shopping spree, use bad judgment in investing their money to the tune of eliminating all their life’s savings, suffer from insomnia, and even mess up their relationships due to disorganized behavior. To be fair, these scenarios are more likely to happen with someone having bipolar disorder than one having simple mood swings, but it pays to be forewarned and cautious.
Prevention Of Mood Swings
(1) Eat a nourishing and balanced diet. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and caffeine.
(2) Learn to handle stress the right away. Try relaxing techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation. While you are at it, you could also try natural remedies for relaxing such as lavender, aromatic oils, incense and candles.
(3) Structure your daily activities around a regular routine which can have a calming effect. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
(4) Get regular exercise as it can balance out your low moods by releasing endorphins.
(5) Whenever you are in the manic mood, exercise control and resist the impulses by deferring any decision by a few hours to a day. Consult others about your decisions if you are not sure.
(6) Identify the triggers for your mood changes, say heated discussions or arguments, and try to avoid them. Keep a tab on your moods whenever you are exposed to the triggers.
If you are finding it difficult to cope with your mood swings with the above measures, then seek the help of a therapist. The counselor can help you understand your symptoms better, suggest ways to heed warning signs, and prescribe methods to handle stress better.
You could also undergo what is called as cognitive-behavioral therapy which will correct the errors in your thinking patterns, if any, like overgeneralization, all-or-none thinking etc.
If your mood swings are refractory to counseling and you are having distressing manic episodes like the ones listed above, then do not hesitate to consult a psychiatrist to rule out bipolar disorder. If you are diagnosed with it, then there are effective medicines for it (mood stabilizers) such as lithium, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. You will need to take these medicines for a prolonged duration.