If you’ve ever been around a person who exhibits noticeable and frequent mood swings it is surprising when it happens and difficult to understand. Most people don’t know how to respond when a friend or family member behaves in this type of unpredictable manner; we often feel powerless to help or comfort the person in need.
Whether you suffer from frequent and mood swings or you are a family member or friend of someone who is exhibiting these behaviors, everyone can benefit by understanding more about mood, mood disorders and mood swings.
By educating ourselves about mood, mood swings, and mood disorders we will be able to better manage the situations as they arise.
Mood Is Not to Be Confused with Emotion
- An emotion is specific like *happy, sad, glad, mad*.
- A “mood” is not a specific emotion; it is an overall emotional state. Moods may have one or more emotions connected to a mood; the mood itself is not a singular emotion.
- As an example, a person in an overall “good mood” may be experiencing happy events and positive experiences and feels “up” while a person in an overall “bad mood” may be experience just the opposite and feels “down”.
- A person can fall into a mood for no apparent reason and without explanation whether or not a mood disorder exists.
- Mood swings are described as abrupt, unpredictable, extreme, or a rapid changes in a person’s mood.
- It is normal to have moods and mood swings. It is not normal when mood swings are frequent and uncontrollable and/or accompanied by abnormal behaviors.
- Severe mood swings that cannot be attributed to an event or trauma or significant life situation but appear to overtake a person’s being should not be ignored.
- Moods can be triggered by events or by nothing at all. Mood swings can also be triggered by events but most often there is no emotional or psychological link. Medical researchers report their beliefs that dramatic mood swings are chemically induced within the brain.
- It is helpful to understand that mood swings may cause a person to act out their frustrations and project them on friends or family members when unable to control the mood swings. Although it is difficult to be around anyone suffering from intense mood swings, family and friends should not take the behaviors personally.
Types of Mood Disorders
There are a number of mood disorders but not all of them are characterized by intense mood swings. The most common types of mood disorders are:
- Bipolar disorder*
- Severe Depression
- Mood disorder caused by serious illness or medical condition
- Substance abuse mood disorder
- Pre-menstrual syndrome (this is a specific condition related to hormonal surges during a woman’s menstrual cycle rather than a chronic mental disorder)
*Bipolar disorder is the disorder most commonly associated with mood swings. It is sometimes referred to as manic – depressive illness. There are several degrees of bipolar disorder with different symptoms that require different levels of treatment. However, one symptom that is common among all is repeated and frequent mood swings.
Causes of Mood Disorders
According to an article by Johns Hopkins Medicine, “what causes mood disorders is not well known”.
What is suspected is that there is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that are responsible for generating positive moods (endorphins) as well as the chemicals in the brain that regulate these endorphins (neurotransmitters). Research is ongoing in hopes of establishing firm cause and more effective treatment.
Extreme mood swings are of concern and are not something to be laughed at, ridiculed, ignored, or dismissed. At the same time, a person who suffers from severe mood swings shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone around him or her should put up with the behaviors. However, when affected by severe mood swings, the sufferer doesn’t always understand the negative impact of their behaviors on those around them.
When life is disrupted by extreme mood swings and becomes unmanageable and family members are equally affected, it is likely that the person is suffering from a mood disorder.
When to Get Help
Sometimes we wait too long to ask for help. We wait until symptoms are so severe that the lives of everyone associated with the problem have become completely dysfunctional. The right time to get help is when symptoms first present themselves, sooner than later.
Symptoms of mood disorders vary depending upon the person. Mood swings are often the first visible sign that something isn’t right followed by one or more of the common symptoms of a mood disorder as listed below.
- Intense or rapid mood swings
- Behaving aggressively or in a hostile manner
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Decreased energy or difficulty concentration
- Fatigue, headaches, digestive disturbances
- Inability to make decisions
- Loss of interest in relationships, activities, daily life
- Low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy
- Overpowering feelings of guilt or failure
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or helplessness
- Sleep disturbances
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about hurting oneself or wanting to die
If multiple symptoms appear or symptoms are present for an extended period of time (versus an occasional episode triggered by life events) it is imperative that the person should be evaluated to obtain a medical diagnosis and a course of action.
Anyone plagued with the unpredictability and unmanageable nature of severe mood swings will benefit from professional help.
A psychiatrist or medical doctor can issue a medical diagnosis to enable the sufferer to obtain medication. Medications are used to balance body chemistry and thus control mood swings.
A licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can provide necessary guidance and recommendations as to whether counseling, treatment or both are needed.
- Counseling can help the patient learn about their illness and understand that it’s not their fault.
- Counseling can help a patient learn how to manage behaviors and how to cope with the symptoms.
- Counseling can also help the patient learn ways to lessen the impact of the illness on friends and family.
- Counseling can help family members understand the illness and learn how to cope with the patient’s mood swings and behaviors that would not be acceptable in normal daily life.
Can Mood Swings Really Be Controlled?
There are quite a few different methods including medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder. Medications balance the chemicals in your brain, therefore helping to smooth out the highs and lows, alleviate anxiety or lift depression.
Lithium, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines and others or combinations of one or more medications may be prescribed by your doctor. If one doesn’t work properly, you and your doctor can work together to find the right medication for you or if side effects are occurring, a different medication can be prescribed.
Medication can be an effective way to help the patient live a more normal, balanced life.
Eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, staying away from troubling relationships, finding a more suitable job can also help patients avoid situations that trigger mood swings.
What If Mood Swings Go Untreated?
Unfortunately, mood disorders accompanied by severe mood swings can lead to severe depression or suicide. If a patient has not learned how to control mood swings, the negative overall impact on life can be severe.
Although this is not always the case, other symptoms may worsen or new ones may appear. Learning may become difficult, friends may disappear; the ability to make decisions, opportunities to be involved in life, ability to take care of oneself – all of these may be impacted.
Negative behaviors like drinking, drug abuse, and risky behaviors, poor financial decisions all may be present and the possibility of ruining your life is real.
It is very important to seek medical attention when mood swings present themselves. Bipolar disorder can be treated successfully along with the other conditions that affect mood.
There Is No Reason to Be Embarrassed
Many people initially feel embarrassed or self – conscious when mental illness or disorder is mentioned. Sometimes feelings of shame stop people from talking about it but it’s important to push through and get the help that’s needed.
The first step is simply to call your regular physician or mental health professional. Beyond that there are hundreds of resources available to help with coping skills and plenty of qualified therapists to assist you on the road to recovery.
There is no shame in being diagnosed with a mood disorder. It is not your fault; you did nothing to cause it and you are not alone. Thousands of children and adults are diagnosed each year and are successfully treated for bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.
If you are experiencing significant mood swings or you notice a rapid and frequent change in the moods of a loved one, it is important to seek medical attention immedidately. Doing so can save a life.