Experiencing sudden changes in mood, often referred to as mood swings, can be a normal part of life, especially during periods of stress or transition. Temporary shifts in emotions may occur without causing significant concern. However, persistent and intense fluctuations in mood could signal an underlying condition that requires attention and treatment.

While it is natural to have good and bad days, if you find yourself frequently transitioning from extreme happiness or euphoria to profound sadness or despair, it might be an indication of a more serious issue. Various mental, emotional, and physical health conditions can impact your mood, as can substance use and certain medications, even when taken as prescribed. It’s essential to remember that mood changes don’t always imply misuse of substances or medications.

Mental health conditions that can cause shifts in mood

Mental health conditions play a significant role in shaping our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Some conditions are classified as mood disorders, including clinical depression and bipolar disorder.

Depressive disorders encompass a range of conditions, such as:

  • Major Depression: When you feel really down for a long time, losing interest in activities and feeling tired all the time.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): This is a lighter form of depression that lasts for a long time, often over two years.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This type of mood change happens during certain seasons, usually winter or summer, when you might feel more down than usual.
  • Perinatal Depression: This happens during pregnancy and can make you feel extremely sad or anxious.
  • Postpartum Depression: This comes after giving birth and can make new mothers feel very sad, worried, or tired.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): This usually happens in young people who have very strong emotional reactions or outbursts that seem much bigger than the situation calls for.

Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, leads to intense mood swings, energy level changes, and alterations in behavior. It is categorized into three types:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: Characterized by one or more episodes of mania.
  • Bipolar II Disorder: Involves one or more episodes of major depression and one or more episodes of hypomania.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia): Exhibits less severe symptoms of mania and depression than a full episode.

Additionally, hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can lead to mood changes, as observed in Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

Other mental health conditions that can influence mood, even if not classified as affective disorders, include anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. Treatment for these conditions often involves a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments.

Physical Health Conditions Impacting Mood

Physical health conditions, particularly chronic or terminal illnesses, can also influence mood. Such effects can be direct, such as hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause, or indirect, stemming from feelings of anxiety or depression due to the illness.

Some examples of physical health conditions that can contribute to mood shifts include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart Disease
  • HIV
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid Disorders

If you notice any new or worsening symptoms related to your physical health, it’s crucial to consult your healthcare professional to explore potential treatment options or mental health support.

Medications and Mood Swings

Certain medications, intended to treat underlying health conditions, can inadvertently affect mood. For instance, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may lead to increased feelings of agitation and anxiety. The acne medication Isotretinoin (Accutane) has also been associated with depression, although more research is needed to fully understand this relationship.

Steroid medications are another common cause of intense or unexpected mood changes. High doses of corticosteroids can lead to agitation, anxiety, apathy, hypomania, irritability, and tearfulness. Similarly, misuse of anabolic-androgenic steroids can have effects on mood.

If you experience persistent mood changes while taking medication, it is essential to communicate with your prescribing clinician. They can recommend alternative treatments or assist you in safely tapering off the current medication under medical supervision.

Impact of Substance Use on Mood

The use or misuse of substances can significantly affect mood and lead to mood swings. For example, smoking cigarettes, vaping nicotine, or using other nicotine products can cause irritability and anxiety. While these feelings may temporarily subside after ingesting more nicotine to fulfill cravings, the underlying symptoms of withdrawal will resurface shortly after.

Alcohol use, whether moderate or heavy, can also result in significant mood fluctuations. Furthermore, other substances like dissociative drugs (e.g., ketamine), psychedelic drugs (e.g., psilocybin), and stimulant drugs (e.g., cocaine) can cause pronounced mood changes.

If you have concerns about your substance use, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. Remember that information shared with them is subject to patient confidentiality laws, but in certain circumstances, they may be legally obligated to report information to law enforcement, mainly if it involves child or public endangerment.

Seeking Professional Help for Mood Swings

Mood changes that interfere with your daily activities or responsibilities should be addressed, especially if you are uncertain about their underlying cause. If you experience difficulty falling asleep or oversleeping, lose interest in activities that once brought you joy, feel “out of control” or engage in risky behaviors outside your routine, or have thoughts of self-harm or harming others, it is crucial to seek professional evaluation.

Consulting a healthcare professional can help identify the reasons behind your mood swings and develop appropriate strategies for resolution. Keeping track of your mood changes and the factors surrounding them can provide valuable information for assessment. Moreover, addressing lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, a balanced diet, quality sleep, and stress management, can positively impact your overall well-being.