Happy days, sad days, annoying days, super joyful days – these emotions are very normal, as long as they don’t disrupt your everyday activities or cause you to get into trouble. However, if they start interfering with your life in an extreme degree, then it’s considered to be unhealthy.
If you have extreme mood swings that bother you or people around you, then you may have a medical condition, and may need to see a doctor to discuss the possible reasons for experiencing these changes in your mood.
Sometimes, when we hear ‘mood swings’, we automatically think ‘bipolar disorder or other mood disorders’. However, human beings are emotional creatures and different people experience and deal with issues differently. Some people are just more sensitive than others. Emotions can happen fast and feel difficult to stop, which is why we experience mood swings.
You don’t have to have a mood disorder to experience mood swings
Below is a scenario between two young friends
“I’m never going to make it” she wailed again. “I’ll just fail this year. What will I tell Mum? I can’t do this. Please help me, Chinwe, please”.
Chinwe sighed inwardly as she hugged her old friend.
She could feel her shaking through the thin T-shirt that Sayo was wearing.
How had it come to this?
It was the 3rd breakdown this week and today was just Wednesday. and it was becoming obvious to their other classmates that something was wrong.
Sayo had always been the bubblier of the two of them; right from the first time they met and became fast friends all those years ago. Occasionally she would run into trouble and come to Chinwe for help.
Just like today.
But Chinwe felt helpless: and didn’t know what help to give anymore.It was tough in their last year at University and she knew the added stress of defending her project did not help. In addition, Sayo had lost her father in a tragic accident just 9 months ago and was still taking his death hard.
Initially following the funeral, she had been melancholic, a state Chinwe expected and thought would take a few months to resolve. Sayo was the last girl in the family and her Dad’s pet. They had always been very close.
So 3 months after the burial; when Sayo suggested an evening out with friends, Chinwe thought she was starting to recover.
But she’d been loud all evening and, to Chinwe who knew her so well, brittle as glass.
They fought that night as they got back into the flat. Sayo was unkind and cruel with her tongue. Chinwe held herself up, but the unfair words of her long-time friend over a trivial matter stung badly.
The next morning, Sayo was aloof and did not attend class. As Chinwe returned home later, it was a quiet and apologetic friend who greeted her and had cooked a meal for them; blaming herself for their disagreement.
She thought it was a one-off.
Until it happened again. And again.
With the recurring pattern of melancholy and despair, followed by elation and querulous behaviour and back to the ‘old’ Sayo. Chinwe often wondered if she was living with 2 separate people. She was scared to start discussions and would ‘gauge the mood’ as she walked in to the flat – she no longer felt the sense of freedom and joy in her own place.
She had learned the signs – when sleep was poor, or when she felt criticized, Sayo’s mood would be querulous and loud. More often it was difficult to predict.
She pulled herself back to the present – “Sayo, we need to seek help from someone. Yes, a doctor”, she said tentatively. “My brother knows a very good…”
“No” said Sayo shortly; her eyes still wet but stubborn. “I’m not mad, just stressed. I’ll be ok”.
And her face closed – Chinwe knew she couldn’t get through any further at that time.
But she worried how much more she could take of this rollercoaster experience.
What affects our mood?
Generally, we talk about mood to describe how we feel. It may be affected by our experience or condition at the time. For example, failing at a test or fighting with your spouse puts you in a bad mood, while receiving some unexpected good news lifts your spirit.
But usually, we disengage from one mood to the next. Gradually coming down from a high as you get used to the information. Or recovering from receiving bad news gradually as your mind processes and accepts the news and explores its implications on your life.
‘Mood swings’ is used to describe rapid changes in mood from one end of the spectrum to another. Usually there is no trigger or obvious cause of the mood change. So, the mood pattern is erratic, and whether it is low or high, angry or sad, it is difficult to explain why it changes suddenly.
So, just as it is described in our little scenario above, there is a young University student who is perplexing her dear friend by swinging from one mood to another with little or no warning.
We know that there are many causes of ‘Mood Swings’. Depression is associated with low mood. Hypomania is associated with elated or ‘high’ mood. In Bipolar disorder, the individual moves from periods of low mood to ‘high’ mood.
People who abuse substances including alcohol and illicit drugs, experience mood extremes and can also swing from one to the other. Dealing with stress – like bereavement – can affect mood and sometimes, it can be erratic and difficult to control. Some ladies find that during the week leading up to their menstrual periods as well as during the period, they may experience mood changes – irritable, getting upset over trivial matters, suddenly bursting into tears or feeling very emotional.
If you suffer with mood swings, it is important to find out what causes them. This will lead you to seek and the appropriate treatment to control them and improve your quality of life.
But it also helps those around you to function better, understand your challenges and support you as much as they can.
What conditions are tied to mood swings?
Most times, mood swings are a symptom of a more serious health issue. They can occur due to mental health conditions, hormonal changes, or substance use problems, among other things.
Mental health conditions that causes mood swings- Mood disorders
- Bipolar disorder: It’s also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels.
- Cyclothymic disorder: The mood shifts in cyclothymia aren’t as extreme as those in people with bipolar disorders. This is a mild mood disorder in which you have emotions that go up and down but are less severe than those associated with bipolar disorder.
- Major depressive disorder (MDD): This is characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.
- Dysthymia: now called persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a chronic form of depression.It is defined as a low mood occurring for at least two years, along with at least two other symptoms of depression. Examples of symptoms include lost interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low appetite, low energy, sleep changes and poor concentration.
- Personality disorders: In certain personality disorders, you may experience rapid changes in mood in a relatively short period of time.
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD): DMDD is typically only diagnosed in children. In it, your child has outbursts that aren’t on target with their developmental stage.
Also, people with schizophrenia and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience mood swings.
- Hormonal conditions: Hormones can also cause mood swings. This has to do with hormones affecting the chemistry of the brain. Teens and women who are pregnant or going through menopause may experience mood swings due to the hormonal changes associated with this phase of their body’s development.
- Substance use: You may experience mood swings if you use drugs or drink alcohol. Excessive drug or alcohol use can lead to addiction, which can seriously interfere with your life.
- a significant change in your life
- your diet
- your sleep habits
How to deal with mood swings
The following tips can help you support friends and family who must experience your behaviour during mood swings:
- Share the problem with family or any close friends who you feel can be impacted by your behaviour. It makes it easier to understand and support you when it is needed. Denying the problem only distances them and isolates you.
- Prepare ahead. In some cases, periods of stress mean that mood swings are more likely. It maybe you have exams, or a deadline or your period – let your close friends or family know when you are more vulnerable, so they can help take extra stress off you.
- How can you maintain a regular mood? Different things work for different people. Adequate sleep, avoiding certain foods or drinks and drugs, creating a reflective quite place where you can unwind or de-stress, or a regular therapy session during stressful periods. If you are diagnosed with conditions like Bipolar Disorder or Hypomania or other mental illness, make sure you take your medications regularly, not missing or skipping doses. If you have unpleasant side effects from the medication, speak about this with your doctor (who would consider alternatives), rather than stopping the medications. Stopping your medications can lead to relapse of the condition.
- Understand yourself. Close friends and family are very easy targets – they are closest for you to ‘lash out’ on when your mood swings happen. But, realise that they care about you and are puzzled by the changes they are seeing in you. They want to help. So while they are your outlet, also know that they want to help. Stay close and connected to your friends/family so they know your relationship is not the issue, but rather the swings are a condition which you can overcome with their support.
-Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe