What are mood swings?
A mood swing is when you feel happy and cheery one moment, miserable and grumpy the next or vice versa. They are common, and can be considered within the normal range of emotions. Most of us will have experienced mood swings, especially when under stress or going through hormonal changes, and particularly during the menopause. When we are feeling down, we might describe this period as feeling fed-up, down, having ‘the blues’ or feeling sad.
Mood is a complex phenomenon which is still not understood. What is known is that certain chemicals in the brain play a major role in determining our moods. Fluctuation in the balance of these chemicals causes mood swings.
Mood swings can vary in duration. In some cases, mood can change rapidly over a few hours and back again. These oscillations may persist for several days or weeks. Episodes of low mood may be accompanied by mood swings.
Mood swings in men
In men, mood swings are also known as the Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS). It is characterised by episodes of low mood and tetchiness, often caused by high levels of stress, brought on by changes in hormone levels.
Lowered levels of the hormone testosterone or raised levels of oestrogen may result in mood swings in men. This is particularly prominent at the time of life called the ‘andropause’ or male menopause when hormone levels begin to fluctuate naturally.
Many men are reluctant to admit to experiencing mood swings, blaming others, a difficult situation or stress for the way they are behaving. The truth is, however, that hormonal changes are not reserved for women, but can be experienced by men too.
Mood swings in women
Women are sometimes said to be ‘moody’ because they experience mood swings more frequently and at greater intensities than their male counterparts. The reason for this is that women’s hormones naturally fluctuate each month because of their menstrual cycle.
During pregnancy, their hormones undergo further changes, often causing them to experience extreme and uncontrollable moods.
As a woman reaches the menopause, her hormone levels change more than that of a man going through the andropause. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone go into decline, but rather than a steady descent, levels oscillate. This makes a woman more susceptible to random mood swings or periods of low mood during the menopause, outwith her control. In some cases, hormonal changes during this time of life can lead to menopausal depression.
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Teenage mood swings
The typical picture of a teenager is a moody one. For both boys and girls, these years are packed with many changes ranging from attitudes, friends and leaving home. On top of this, teenagers also undergo a lot of hormonal changes as their bodies develop.
Often teenagers become obsessed with image, act over-confidently or hide from others because their self-esteem is low as a result of an increase in self-awareness. When all these factors are added together, it is no wonder that the average teenager is susceptible to mood swings.
It is important to remember that teenage mood swings are a normal part of growing up. As the changes settle in, moods should begin to improve and stabilise.
However, it is important to bear in mind too that occasionally, the first symptoms of depression are shown during the teenage years, and if this is a cause for concern, it is important to see your doctor.
Self-help for mood swings
There are several measures you can employ to help with your mood swings. It is important to acknowledge that these measures require patience and dedication, and are unlikely to be a ‘quick fix.’ However, their effect is likely to be long-lasting.
- Think about the context – you may experience a downward spiral in mood as a reaction to a specific piece of news or a problem at work. However, it is important to put the information back into context and remember that you have solved many problems before and can do so again
- Think realistically – it is easy to have unrealistic hopes or expectations. If these are not fulfilled, remember to think realistically and understand that the way in which a particular situation has turned out may not be so bad after all
- Don’t fabricate fact – many people exaggerate a particular experience, particularly if it is or is likely to be unpleasant. Remember not to convince yourself that the worst is going to happen, but plan according to what you know is true
- Cut down on alcohol – alcohol is notorious for affecting your mood. People may turn to drink to help them forget their problems but this may make a situation worse, and may lead to further problems.
- Re-organise your life – when things get out of your control, you become more susceptible to stress, anxiety, uncontrollable mood swings, periods of low mood or even depression. Even measures such as tidying up your bedroom will help you organise your mind and give you more control over your life
- Talk to someone – often bottling up your problems can cause you to suddenly explode into a bad mood. If you talk to someone about your problems, be it a close friend or a medical professional such as a psychotherapist, you may find that this considerably eases your feelings. Knowing that you have someone who cares about how you are feeling will also help.
Remedies for mood swings
It is always worth employing self-help measures. There are times, however, when a little more help is needed.
Your doctor may prescribe conventional medicines such as mild sedatives or anti-depressants, but many are reluctant to promote their use as treatment of first choice as they can cause side effects.
If this is the case with you, it is worth considering herbal treatments, as these are less intrusive to your body.
- St. John’s Wort is a traditional remedy which may help mood problems. It works by influencing the chemical balance in the brain. Hypericum can be found in licensed herbal remedies such as Hyperiforce® St. John’s wort tablets. This remedy can interfere with other medications so speak to your doctor before you start taking it.
- Women experiencing mood swings or low mood fluctuating with their menstrual cycle may find the herb Agnus castus helpful
- Those going through the menopause associated with symptoms such as low mood, mood swings and mild depression may also benefit from the use of soy isoflavone extracts
- Many people with mood swings and low moods also experience stress. St. John’s wort can help with this, but there are circumstances when herbs such as Valerian may also be needed.
If you find that your mood swings are not improving or worsening, you should speak to your doctor. They will be able to check that you are not suffering from a more severe medical condition.
When to see a doctor
Mood swings are a normal part of life, particularly when growing up, stressed or going through the menopause or andropause.
However, if your mood swings are beginning to interfere with everyday life or are causing a strain on a relationship, then it is important to seek medical advice. If you suspect a deep rooted problem such as a mood disorder or depression, and in particular, if you are becoming violent, having thoughts of suicide, hearing voices or seeing visions, you will need to seek medical attention straight away.