The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines “mood swings” as alternating periods of happiness and discontent. Although feelings normally fluctuate from day to day, and even during the course of the same day, extreme or prolonged mood swings are often associated with mood disorders. Mood swings can also be attributed to stress or pregnancy-related hormonal changes, as well as chemical imbalances in the brain.
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that can have severe and long-lasting negative effects on the patient, as well as on friends and family members. Stress often triggers episodes of both the mania and depression associated with Bipolar Disorder. Although a manic episode often feels good in the moment, people who suffer through them usually make impulsive decisions without thinking of the consequences. They might spend all their money on a shopping spree or engage in a one-night stand. Likewise, people who experience episodes of depression might recognize a downward spiral, but they might also feel powerless to help themselves.
Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression
Any woman who has been pregnant has felt the dizzying swings between euphoria and overwhelming sadness, often within the same hour. Experiencing such extreme emotions can be confusing if you’re a new mother-to-be, but understanding why these mood swings occur can be helpful. You might be anxious about the impending birth or worried how you’ll be able to afford the expense of raising a child. You might mourn the passing of your premotherhood days but be ecstatic about life with a new baby. Rapid changes in hormones, especially in the first and third trimesters, can also affect your mood. Once the baby arrives, your body goes through another period of hormonal upheaval. Some women experience what is known as the “baby blues,” or postpartum depression.
Pregnancy is not the only time when you can experience hormone-related mood swings. Some women experience mood swings during specific times in their monthly cycle, commonly known as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Teenage girls who are going through the onset of puberty might confuse their parents as they morph into moody, sullen or angry strangers. Once hormone levels begin to normalize, being able to effectively managing your mood becomes easier.
Every bodily movement and function, including your mood, is regulated by the release and reabsorption of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. When your moods become severe or they start to interrupt with your daily functioning, you might have a chemical imbalance of one of the brain’s many neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA or norepinephrine. Doctors have to rely on a patient’s personal testimony as well as their own observations to determine the extent of chemical imbalance. Unfortunately, correcting a chemical imbalance with medication is based largely on trial and error. Likewise, chemical imbalances are not usually constant and can be affected by outside influences.
Sometimes the easiest way to manage your mood swings is to recognize what triggers them and then take proactive measures to minimize those triggers. If you know that the rush of preparing dinner while trying to help the kids with their homework stresses you out, set aside time for homework before fixing dinner. Adequate sleep and regular exercise, as well as a healthy diet, can keep your moods on a more even level. Severe mood swings due to mood disorders or chemical imbalances can usually be controlled with medication. The important thing is to talk to a doctor if other attempts to level your mood do not work or you feel you cannot cope.