How to understand and prevent mood swings
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are examples of mood swings?
Emotions change naturally in response to what a person encounters during their day, their internal thought process, and their overall mental and physical health. Generally, mood changes are not abrupt unless caused by something in the environment. For example, a person who receives news that a loved one has died may experience a rapid deterioration in their mood.
In contrast, mood swings often refer to sudden changes in emotional state that are not immediately attributable to an outside cause. Some mental disorders can cause sudden mood swings, as can some physical conditions, like hypothyroidism. In those cases, a person may feel as though a switch has been flipped within them. They might feel a noticeable shift as their mood changes and struggle to explain why it occurs.
What would cause mood swings?
The causes of mood swings are highly varied. Nearly everyone experiences them occasionally, and it is often appropriate to experience a sudden shift in mood in response to an external factor, like receiving extremely good or bad news. Frequent mood swings or mood swings that are beyond what the average person might typically experience might be a sign that an underlying factor is to blame.
Many mood swings are attributable to mood disorders, which is a broad term that describes all types of depression and bipolar disorders. Bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterized by mood fluctuations, is likely the most commonly associated with shifting moods. Depressive disorders can also cause mood swings, and a person experiencing depression may feel their mood worsen with little provocation.
Some personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, are also associated with mood instability, and neurodevelopmental disorders like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause increased irritability. Medical causes can also contribute to mood swings. Hormonal changes and premenstrual syndrome are associated with shifting moods, as are some disorders of the endocrine system, like hypothyroidism.
How do I fix my mood swings?
If your mood swings are frequent or severe, you should consider accessing mental health resources, like meeting with a mental health professional to discuss your concerns. A mental illness or mental health disorder can make moods difficult to manage, and a mental health evaluation can help you understand underlying factors that may be contributing to your mood swings. If an underlying condition is discovered, a therapist or other mental health professional can initiate treatment to address your concerns.
If you aren’t at a point of considering professional help, it is likely best to begin by evaluating your self-care and coping strategies. Good self-care is essential for physical and mental well-being. It often begins by addressing the “big three” of self-care: sleep, diet, and exercise. If you’re not eating well, getting very little physical activity, or having trouble sleeping, one or all of those factors likely contribute to your mood swings.
Positive coping skills are also important. Positive coping includes things like seeking help from your support network, speaking to yourself positively, and practicing gratitude. In contrast, negative coping includes things like substance use, self-blame, victimization, and self-criticism. Evidence suggests that positive coping helps increase emotional regulation and dampen mood swings in the long term. Negative coping may be helpful in the short term, but it will likely worsen your mood over time.
How can I tell if I have mood swings?
You may have mood swings if you experience shifts in your mood that are unexplained, frequent, or have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Everyone experiences some unexplained emotional shifts occasionally, but if they occur often and impact your ability to live your life, they are likely beyond what is typical. If you're concerned that your mood changes are negatively impacting you, it is likely best to meet with medical and mental health professionals to discover any underlying causes.
Are mood swings normal?
Everyone experiences mood swings occasionally, and it is typical to experience a sudden shift in mood in response to outside stimuli. For example, receiving news of a loved one’s death causes almost everyone to feel strong negative feelings almost immediately. If your mood swings occur frequently without explanation or make it difficult to live your life, you may be experiencing intense shifts beyond what is normal. In that case, you should consider reaching out to your doctor, a therapist, or other mental health professional to begin investigating possible underlying causes of your mood swings.
How long do mood swings last?
The length of mood swings varies considerably from person to person, depending on what factors trigger their mood swings and what underlying conditions are present. For example, some mood disorders can produce a high or low mood that lasts for weeks at a time, while other people may experience “rapid cycling,” where their mood fluctuates between extremes daily.
Although it is not possible to predict exactly how long mood swings last, it is possible to evaluate how they impact a person’s life. Mood swings should not be so frequent or severe that a person struggles to complete daily tasks or do the things they like to do. If mood swings have a significant adverse impact, it is likely a good idea to visit with a mental health professional. There are often underlying medical or mental health factors that contribute to mood instability.
Why does my mood drop for no reason?
Everyone will experience occasional mood swings without explanation, but if your mood drops frequently and you can’t figure out why, an underlying cause may be contributing. A mood disorder or other mental health condition may be at fault, or a medical concern like hormonal fluctuations over the menstrual cycle may have a significant impact.
If you’re struggling to explain why your mood seemingly worsens for no reason, it may be worthwhile to work with a mental health professional to uncover possible underlying causes. They can help you track your moods and identify patterns that will likely explain why your mood swings occur.
How do you deal with moody people?
Moody people can sometimes be challenging to manage. Sometimes, it is best to minimize interaction with the person, such as if you have a moody or irritable coworker at work. Limiting interaction to what is necessary can help reduce the emotional burden of being around someone who is constantly moody.
If you can’t avoid the person, such as if a family member is always in a mood, it may be worthwhile to bring it to their attention if you are comfortable doing so. If you choose to approach them about their mood, be sure to do so from a place of support and concern. Tell them you’re worried about how they’re doing and that they seem unhappy. If the person is open to discussing your concerns, you can tell them how their mood has impacted you and what behaviors make you nervous around them.
Are mood swings treatable?
Mood swings can be caused by many different factors, including mental disorders and medical problems. However, many of the underlying conditions that contribute to mood swings can be treated or managed. For example, mood swings are common in major depressive disorder, but the condition is highly treatable, and most people see improvement in their symptoms after beginning treatment.
If mood swings impact your life, you may want to reach out to your doctor or a therapist to determine the underlying causes. Your doctor can help rule out medical problems that may be to blame, and a therapist or other mental health professional can help identify patterns in your mood that may indicate their cause. A therapist can also initiate treatment to help you learn skills to recognize and manage mood swings.
How do you make a moody person feel better?
Intense mood fluctuations are a symptom of some mental health conditions, and it may be challenging to help a person feel better if they are dealing with moodiness caused by an underlying condition. It can sometimes be emotionally draining or otherwise difficult to be around a moody person, but you can’t always change the person’s mood. You should be prepared to exit the situation if it becomes too much for you or the person becomes hostile.
When you speak to the person, make sure to use your best communication skills and offer empathy. Do not judge or criticize the person for their feelings, and don’t push them to reveal underlying factors that may contribute to their mood. Often, an offer to listen if the other person wants to speak goes a long way. Even if they don’t want to talk, knowing that you are available indicates that they have support, which may be helpful as they try to improve their mood.
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