Experiencing a range of emotions, even within the space of a single day, is perfectly normal. You might be laughing at a cat video one moment and crying over a sad story the next. That’s mood swings and it affects everyone differently.
PMS impacts people differently and to different extents. While some women may find that it does not significantly change their day-to-day lives, others might be impacted more severely.
iTHINK looks at five possible physiological and psychological reasons behind mood swings, and what you can do to help reduce them.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
PMS refers to a set of symptoms that occur in some women one or two weeks before their period. One of these symptoms is mood swings.
Other common symptoms of PMS are tiredness, insomnia, stomach aches, headaches, breast tenderness, and changes in appetite and libido.
The causes of PMS are still unknown, but some researchers suggest that it may be linked to the changing levels of the hormone oestrogen that occurs just before menstruation.
Ways of reducing PMS include getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, ensuring 7 to 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis, and reducing stress through yoga or meditation. Reduction of alcohol consumption and not smoking can also help with PMS symptoms.
PMS is relatively common: over 90% of women experience one or more symptoms in their lifetime.
However, PMS impacts people differently and to different extents. While some women may find that it does not significantly change their day-to-day lives, others might be impacted more severely.
Some women experience very severe symptoms of PMS, which is referred to as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and may cause psychological symptoms similar to depression.
If you suspect you might have PDD or feel that your ability to function in day-to-day life is noticeably impacted by PMS, it could be worth a visit to your doctor.
While it is unclear whether the premenstrual change in oestrogen levels is the cause of PMS, hormonal imbalances can certainly cause mood swings.
For example, hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce adequate amounts of the thyroid hormone.
This hormone is responsible for managing your body’s use of energy, and without enough of it, your body’s metabolism begins to slow down.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include mood swings, tiredness, and depression, as well as a range of other physical symptoms.
Hypothyroidism is more common among women than men, and it can be developed or be congenital. It can be treated through taking daily hormone replacement tablets and carefully monitoring hormone levels in your blood.
For more information about hypothyroidism and its treatment, visit the NHS website.
Pregnancy is another possible cause of mood swings in women. To begin with, there is a rapid rise of oestrogen and progestogen during this period, and some women’s moods may be impacted by this.
Pregnancy also causes fatigue and changes to your metabolism, which can also cause mood swings.
Furthermore, pregnancy is often accompanied by a lot of stress, such as financial worry, stress about whether the baby will be healthy, whether you will be a good parent, and worry about labour pains and giving birth.
Mood swings during pregnancy usually occur most frequently during the first trimester (between 6 and 10 weeks), and the third trimester, just before birth. It is also normal to experience mood swings in the second trimester, but these tend to be less frequent.
Treating mood swings during pregnancy mostly involves relaxing and staying healthy. Getting enough sleep and physical activity, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and meditating or taking pregnancy yoga classes are a good way to balance your mood.
However, it’s also important to remember that your body is going through a lot of changes as it’s preparing to introduce new life into the world, and you shouldn’t be worried about coming off as moody to those around you.
What’s important is that you are as happy and as healthy as you can be. Doing relaxing things you enjoy, spending time with loved ones, taking naps and remembering to rest during the day will help keep your mood up.
Though stress may seem like an unavoidable fact of modern life, chronic stress can lead to mood swings and other health problems.
Elevated levels of stress cause the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which are hormones responsible for managing your fight-or-flight response.
While this response is an evolutionarily useful feature to keep us safe from danger, the constant presence of stressors in the world around us means that our bodies are often on high alert and ready to react strongly (or overreact) to stimuli.
Stress can also often lead to behaviours that seem to reduce it in the short-term, but in fact, make it worse. Such behaviours include taking drugs and alcohol, ingesting pain medication, smoking, and binge-eating.
Obviously, the best way to reduce stress is to avoid stressful situations whenever possible.
But given their frequency in our society, this is nearly impossible. Whether it is issued with friends and family, problems at work or with money, or even such things as traffic jams and late trains, we encounter a plethora of stressful situations in our daily lives.
But we can develop healthier, less stress-inducing ways of responding to these kinds of situation. Meditation and relaxation techniques can reduce how much problems impact our mood.
Furthermore, leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet can also reduce stress.
Finally, having a supportive environment of friends and family members can help us get through stressful times without getting too worked up.
Cyclothymia and Bipolar Disorder
Cyclothymia is a mood disorder that causes extremely high and extremely low moods. It is not as severe or as obvious as bipolar disorder and often goes undiagnosed. If left untreated, cyclothymia can develop into bipolar disorder.
While cyclothymia can affect both men and women, it is more common in women. Though the causes of cyclothymia aren’t known, it can result from a prolonged, traumatic experience, or be inherited genetically.
People with cyclothymia experience extremely low, depressive moods as well as hypomanic moods, which result in exaggerated feelings of excitement and happiness, and the inability to concentrate.
More extreme shifts between the two moods are characteristic of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder tend to experience episodes of extreme mania or depression for prolonged periods. These can last for several weeks.
The depressive episodes carry many similarities to depression, including low mood, fatigue, and even suicidal thoughts.
Meanwhile, the manic moods can result in impulsive behaviour (such as impulse buying), reduction in appetite, insomnia, and irritability.
If you experience these symptoms, you should speak to your doctor. A medical professional can help you with treatment for either of these disorders. This will likely involve both mood-stabilising medication and psychological treatment.
These are only a handful of the reasons why a person could be experiencing mood swings. For example, depending on your age, you may be experiencing mood swings as a symptom of puberty, or of menopause.
In addition to cyclothymia and bipolar disorder, other psychological disorders that can cause impact your mood include depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and borderline personality disorder (BPD).
If mood swings are negatively affecting your life and your relationships, it’s always worth bringing it up with your doctor. They will give you advice on how you can adapt your lifestyle to reduce mood swings or, if they think it’s necessary, will prescribe medication to help you.