An introduction to low mood
Low mood is an emotion we have all experienced. It is a part of normal life, with its ups and downs, good experiences and those which are not so good.
Feeling low in mood is described in a number of ways such as being fed-up, down, sad, worried, worn-out or frustrated. These are very similar to the emotions we might describe if suffering from mild depression, but to a lesser degree of severity.
Unlike depression, those suffering low mood will feel their mood lift (even a little) when good news arrives. In addition, mood swings (being happy one day and sad the next), can be a part of feeling low in mood.
We are more likely to suffer from low mood when under stress. This emotional position gives us a lower ‘capacity’ to cope with the everyday problems we might otherwise be able to take in our stride. This is the reason that anxiety can often accompany episodes of low mood.
Difference between low mood and depression
It is important to establish if the emotions you are experiencing are due to low mood or depression. Although sharing many similar features, the two conditions are usually managed differently.
Low mood is part of the normal spectrum of emotions we go through in our daily lives. Moods tend to get better as circumstances improve or with the arrival of good news. Depression is a complex medical or psychiatric condition which may be severe and potentially life threatening if left untreated.
The main difference between low mood and depression is that symptoms of depression tend to be more severe and chronic. They also last longer or have a tendency to recur. Depression is also likely to interfere with everyday life – for example, someone with the condition may not have the motivation to leave the house for days at a time.
Causes and triggers of low mood
Just as some people are more prone to feeling depressed, there are those who have a personality make-up giving them a greater tendency to low mood and more likely to feel fed-up, down or sad.
People have a remarkably wide range of personalities. Some just seem cheerful all the time whereas others appear to be constantly weighed down by life’s problems.
One of the main causes of low mood is our mental attitude when we face everyday situations outside our comfort zone. These triggers of low mood include:
- Stress – at work or at home. Probably the most common trigger of low mood
- Loss of job – another form of stress, but made more complex because of the financial insecurity that comes with it
- Empty nest – this is when one or more children leave home. It appears to affect women more than men
- Bereavement – sadness and a feeling of deep loss are very natural emotions experienced with the loss of a close relative or friend. Some people never recover from bereavement with low mood developing into depression
- Alcohol – this is often used by people to make them more relaxed and ‘happier’. However, the solution is temporary and may exacerbate the problem
- Hormonal changes in women – low mood can be triggered by changes in the female hormones. It can be seen at some points in the menstrual cycle as with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). It can also be caused by pregnancy or the menopause. Female hormones have the ability to influence mood and as these fluctuate, they may cause a range of uncontrollable, unexpected and sometimes uncharacteristic emotions
- Hormonal changes in men – just as with women, hormonal changes in men can also give rise to low mood and mood swings especially during the andropause, or ‘male menopause’.
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There are many treatments which may be used to help improve low mood. These include:
- Self-help measures – changes to your lifestyle, even small ones, can have a significant impact on your mood
- Talking therapies – this covers a range of treatments including counselling and psychotherapy. A medical professional will be able to guide and influence your thought processes to a more positive outlook
- Herbal remedies – natural remedies such as St John’s wort (Hypericum) have been used for many years to help with the symptoms of low mood
- Conventional medicines – these are prescribed medicines which change the chemical balance in your brain. However, they are not usually prescribed as treatments of first choice for low mood because of the association with side effects.
Follow the link for more detailed information on how to treat low moods.
When to go to the doctor
Low mood is an unpleasant condition while it lasts and for most, there is no obvious need to see a doctor. It is worth remembering that you are not alone, and most of the population will have experienced similar episodes of feeling sad, down or fed-up.
However, if you feel that your condition is worsening and suspect that it may be progressing to depression, it is important to speak to your doctor. Signs of this happening include more frequent bouts of low mood, finding it difficult to improve your mood, inability to feel happy even with close friends or when you hear good news.
In addition, seek medical attention immediately if you are having any thoughts of suicide.