How to understand and prevent mood swings

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated January 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you frequently end up asking yourself, “Why am I in such a bad mood?” or “Why am I so irritable today?” Many teenagers experience mood swings during adolescence; they’re often a normal reaction to changes in body chemistry and life stressors. If you’re looking to understand more about why mood swings happen during this time of life and what you can do about them, you’re in the right place.

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Feeling elated one minute and irritable the next?

What causes mood swings in teenagers?

First and foremost, it is important to reiterate that mood swings are a normal part of being a teenager. The “moody teenager” trope in the media may be exaggerated, but it doesn’t come from nothing. There are many factors that may contribute to the experience of these fluctuations; you may find that your experience aligns with one or both of the following.

Biology

The production of sex hormones causes puberty. Mood swings are normal as your body acclimates to these new hormonal shifts and substantial physical changes. That said, if they continue for too long or you believe that there are hormones causing your extreme mood swings and significantly impacting your day-to-day functioning, you may want to consult with a healthcare provider. A doctor can conduct blood tests to make sure your body is producing the right amounts of each necessary hormone, and that an imbalance isn’t an underlying issue that’s contributing to your extreme shifts in mood. If this is the case, medications may be necessary to combat unhealthy hormone levels. A mental health professional can also evaluate you to see if there may be a mental health condition at play.

Stress

Another common characteristic of the teenage experience is a certain amount of stress. Adolescence is typically a time of immense change in one’s life. There’s academic pressure, along with decisions to be made about your future. There’s social pressure, which goes hand in hand with figuring out who you are, what you value, and the types of people you want in your life. You may also experience stress related to body image, family dynamics, or mental health, for instance.

A buildup of these types of stress can cause mood swings, especially if you haven’t yet been taught healthy coping skills.

Tips for preventing and managing mood swings

You may be able to prevent mood shifts or at least lessen their frequency and/or impact by making a few lifestyle changes. Some of the following tips may be useful if you are ready to regain some control over your daily moods and behavior. 

Eat healthy, balanced meals

Having a healthy diet can help provide your body with the energy it needs to handle the stress you may be experiencing in your daily life. Research even shows that “certain foods like polyunsaturated fats including omega-3 fats and vegetables” may help manage your body’s level of cortisol, the stress hormone. While high-stress situations may suppress your appetite or make you crave high-fat or high-sugar snacks, remember that one of the best things you can do to help yourself cope is to have a healthy, nutrient-rich meal. 

Exercise regularly

Exercising regularly can also help improve your body’s response to stress, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). That means it may help you be better able to avoid severe mood swings before, during, or after experiencing a stressful situation. One study found that teenagers who engaged in regular exercise every week were less likely to be stressed than those who did not and that those who had insufficient exercise were more likely to experience stress. 

Get good sleep

According to the CDC, teenagers between 13 and 18 should get between eight and ten hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. Without enough sleep, you may be more likely to experience abrupt changes in mood and less likely to cope well with stressors. According to an article from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, one study found that participants reported feeling “more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted” when limited to just 4.5 hours of sleep per night for one week. They noted “a dramatic improvement in mood” when allowed to get a full night’s sleep after that extended period of fatigue. These results point to the idea that creating a healthy, consistent sleep schedule for yourself may help with mood swings.

Keep a mood journal

You might also try keeping a daily journal about your mood. Tracking when you experience mood swings and why may help you better understand how to cope with or avoid them. For instance, you could make a daily note of what your moods were, triggers that may have caused shifts, how you ate and slept that day, and whether you got exercise. Over time, you might be able to identify useful patterns that can help prevent extreme changes in your mood.

Practice relaxation techniques

Learning how to calm yourself down in the moment can help you stave off a mood swing as or before it starts. Certain relaxation techniques can be helpful with this, as some have been proven to decrease tension and anxiety—such as box breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Practicing some or all of these over time can give you new tools in your toolbox to help you cope when you feel your mood shifting.

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Feeling elated one minute and irritable the next?

Is it a mood swing or something else?

Sometimes mood swings can be indicative of a mood or mental disorder, such as:

  • disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • persistent depressive disorder (a chronic form of depression)
  • major depressive disorder
  • substance use disorder

If it seems as though you’re experiencing symptoms that go beyond feelings of extreme sadness and other emotions of mood swings, you may have developed a mental health condition. For example, self harm and other behaviors may occur when someone has clinical depression. If you sense your mood swings are tied to something else, you may need to seek support from a mental health professional.

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Tracey has helped me understand myself better, in the last few weeks. I was going through a lot of change in life and had constant mood swings. Tracey was very attentive and listened to my outpourings and helped me analyze the situation better. She gave new perspectives on my bad experiences."

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re not in control of your moods. Speaking with a mental health professional may be helpful in this case. If your mood swings are being caused by other mental health conditions, they can help you uncover strategies for managing your symptoms and lead you through the creation of a treatment plan. However, even if the mood swings you’re experiencing are simply part of the stage of life that you’re in, a therapist can still be helpful. They can offer a safe space where you can express and work through difficult emotions, and they can help you learn coping mechanisms for dealing with different feelings more effectively.

Your doctor may be able to refer you to a therapist in your local area if you’re interested in this type of support. Remember: Whether you have a mental health condition or not, there’s no shame in speaking with a therapist. However, some teenagers find the prospect of meeting with a therapist in their office to be intimidating, and others may have difficulty locating a provider in their area or getting transportation there. In cases like these, virtual therapy is another option. 

With a virtual therapy platform like TeenCounseling—designed specifically for those between the ages of 13 and 18—you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. They can help you address the challenges you may be facing from the comfort of your own home. Since research suggests that online therapy is as effective as in-person sessions for a variety of conditions and situations, you can choose the format that feels best for you. 

Takeaway

Experiencing some mood swings is a part of life for many teenagers, given the hormonal and situational changes most go through at this age. If your mood changes are becoming debilitating, stretching over long periods of time, or you simply want advice and support in managing them better, meeting with a therapist may help.

Learn to cope with the challenges of adolescence

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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