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Welcome to the human experience. You’re hot, then you’re cold. You’re yes, then you’re no. You’re that Katy Perry earworm that will never go away (sorry and you’re welcome).
Mood swings happen to everyone. In fact, it’s considered healthy to “feel all the feels.” But if you’re going from soaring highs to extreme lows at record speeds, you might be dealing with something more serious.
Mental health conditions, hormones, substance use, and lifestyle factors could all be at work here. Let’s dig into the triggers, the treatments, and when it’s time to reach out for help.
Listen, we’ve all been in a mood at one time or another. But the difference between a craptastic stressful day and a concerning pattern of mood swings comes down to two questions:
- Do your moods last more than a few days at a time?
- Are they keeping you from living your best life day to day?
If the answer to either of those is “yes,” it might be time to see a doctor.
Here’s what a mood swing feels like
If you’re flying a little too high (so much so that some might say you’re on the edge of mania), you might:
- feel jumpy or wired, like your thoughts are racing
- lose your appetite and your need for solid Zzz’s
- engage in behavior that’s different from your norm, like eating or drinking more than usual or spending a lot of money
On the other hand, a depressive mood might make you:
- lose interest in activities — even your usual go-tos
- struggle to fall asleep
- have trouble concentrating or making decisions
- feel empty, hopeless, or worthless
You’re not alone.
If you’re currently in crisis or considering self-harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
The good news: You’ve got options. There are several possible causes of these Big Moods, and they can all be treated. Mental or physical health conditions, hormonal changes, or substance use could be what’s up.
Way more than a mood
Here are some of the mental health conditions that can have major effects on your moods:
Symptoms vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder but can include periods of extreme ups and downs, changes in sleep and energy level, and risky, out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Bipolar episodes are more intense than your usual good days and bad days, lasting for days or weeks at a time.
To be diagnosed with bipolar I, a person must have a manic episode (a period of super energetic and positive mood), but they may never have a depressive episode. (This might sound confusing, since the word “bipolar” often makes us think of two extremes.)
A diagnosis of bipolar II requires an episode of hypomania (like mania but slightly toned down) that’s preceded or followed by a depressive episode.
The mood changes in this condition are less severe than in bipolar disorder, but they last way longer — 2 years or more.
Dysthymia is adepressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. No wonder it’s now better known as persistent depressive disorder.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
This is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. Major depressive episodes last at least 2 weeks and have serious negative effects on your sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-worth.
Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)
This is a relatively new mental health condition found in children who experience extreme irritability and anger and frequent outbursts (worse than typical tantrums).
These conditions bring on intense, sudden changes in your vibe. Mood changes can happen quickly and close together and can last as little as a few hours.
When hormones don’t play nice
If you’ve ever seen your period arrive and thought, “Wow, that explains a lot,” you know hormones have the power to mess sh*t UP.
What’s really at work here: Our goddess estrogen is related to the production of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone during menstruation and menopause interfere with serotonin production. Enter: Mood swings.
If you think hormones are to blame, start with a little lifestyle overhaul:
- Cut back on caffeine and alcohol.
- Balance that plate: Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Up your sleep game.
- Get your sweat on regularly.
- Find healthy ways to handle stress.
Full disclosure: Goop-ing it up may not be enough to tackle hormonal mood shifts. If they’re making life tough, your doc might suggest one of these treatment options:
- Hormone therapy could rescue you from severe mood swings. But there’s a lot of talk about hormone therapy and breast cancer risk, and according to a 2019 study, the longer you take it, the greater your risk. Aim to be on the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time possible.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can quell mood swings and other unwelcome menopause symptoms (looking at you, hot flashes). But these can come with side effects, so hormone therapy is usually the first course of action.
- Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) options like black cohosh, phytoestrogens, and soy have been shown to help keep things cool. CAM also includes pill-less options like acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, and meditation.
- Low-dose birth control pills can help even things out if your hormones are all over the place. They deliver a consistent dose of estrogen and progestin every day, so there’s no room for a serotonin shortage.
Blame it on the a-a-a-alcohol
Drugs and alcohol alter your mood. That’s kind of the whole point: These substances mess with the chemicals in your brain, including the ones responsible for regulating your moods. Even your beloved caffeine can have an effect.
Dependence on a substance is a health issue in its own right, but it’s also often paired with another mental health condition.
In fact, the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 8.2 million Americans have a substance use disorder and another mental health condition at the same time.
Every substance is different — some spark a shift in your mood when you take them, while others can cause mood changes if you don’t. If you have a substance use disorder, you may notice shifts in your mood during periods of withdrawal.
If you think a prescription medication might be affecting your moods (the irony!), talk to your healthcare provider. They may adjust your dose or try a different medication.
The good news: If you think you may have a substance use disorder, treatment can help. You could try therapy, support groups, or even inpatient programs if your symptoms are severe.
No matter what, you have options. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to start.
What else could it be?
Nothing ringing a bell yet? A variety of health conditions could be messing with your vibe. Thyroid problems, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep issues, or even a vitamin B-12 deficiency could be the culprit for mood changes.
Avoid these moody triggers
Feeling like your mood changes are coming out of nowhere? Consider these common triggers:
- a big life change or event
- sleep pattern
Some of them might seem obvious, but they can all contribute to a change in your moods. If you experience frequent and severe shifts in mood, talk to your doctor.
If serious changes in your mood are preventing you from living life the way you’re used to, talk to your healthcare provider. They’re the first step toward discovering an underlying issue, and they’ll connect you to other services that might help, like therapy.
If your moods aren’t totally getting in the way but you’re still like WTF, here are some ways you can help yourself:
Stick to a routine. Sleep is super important to your overall health. Try to set a schedule and stick to it.
Move your body. Regular exercise has all sorts of health benefits, but it’s especially fire for your mood. And you don’t have to become a gym rat — a new study shows that running for just 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression.
Keep a journal. Time to put all those bullet journal videos you watched to good use. It’s super helpful to take note of when you have a shift in mood and what happened right before it. Those notes will come in handy if you’re planning on seeing a pro.
Eat a balanced diet. It’s not a substitute for treatment, but if you’re feeling low, you can try filling your plate with serotonin-boosting foods.
Find your om. Incorporating some relaxation practices like meditation or yoga into your routine can be a healthy way of managing stress.
Talk it out. Stigma around therapy is so 10 years ago. Even if your mood changes subside, seeking out an expert with an open ear is never a bad thing.
- Mood swings can be an emotional roller coaster. While feeling ALL the feels isn’t always fun, it’s a normal and healthy part of life.
- If mood changes are getting in the way of you living your best life, something bigger may be going on. If the changes are sudden, extreme, and last longer than a few days, call your doc.
- Possible explanations for subtle, sudden, or severe mood swings include treatable mental or physical health conditions, hormonal changes, and substance use.
- Keep an eye on common triggers like stress, medications, sleep patterns, and illnesses.
- A doctor can help you solve the mystery of your moods and find the right treatment plan for you.
- Lifestyle changes like exercise, journaling, meditation, and healthy eating could help you manage less severe mood swings.