What Are Mood Swings?

Medically Reviewed By Vara Saripalli, Psy.D.
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Mood swings, or mood changes, are drastic fluctuations in your mood. They are sometimes due to underlying medical or psychological conditions, but they are often due to stress, your environment, and other lifestyle factors. Mood changes are often a typical part of life. Different factors can affect your mood in many ways. Stress, hormonal changes, sleep issues, and major life changes can all have a direct effect on how your mood changes.

Mood shifts are sometimes due to medical or psychological conditions. These types of mood changes tend to be more severe and have a greater impact on your daily life and relationships.

This article further defines mood changes. It also talks about the causes of mood shifts and how doctors may treat them.

What are mood swings?

Woman sitting in a chair looking out the window
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The American Psychological Association defines mood changes as oscillations in mood.

Your mood is a part of your emotional rhythm. It is generally less intense than your emotions, but it is a piece of them. It tends to have a trigger of some kind, such as an event or an experience.

Changes in mood are a typical part of life. Everyone experiences mood changes on a regular basis. One day, you may feel happy and upbeat, and the next, you may feel sad or irritated. Depending on what is happening in your life at the time, these types of changes are nothing more than the usual ebb and flow of your moods.

Mood swings tend to feel more intense than your typical mood change. They also cause more of a fluctuation in your emotions, and, often, they can last for a longer period of time.

Signs of a possible experience with such mood fluctuations include:

  • extremely low moods for longer than 2 weeks
  • a consistent feeling of ups and downs
  • an inability to explain why you feel a particular way

Just because you are experiencing mood swings does not mean that you have a serious underlying condition.

However, mood fluctuations can sometimes indicate conditions such as bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other psychological concerns. They are also sometimes due to medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and certain cancer treatments.

Mood changes can just as easily result from other triggers, including stress, hormones, and life changes.

If you feel that your mood swings are negatively affecting your daily life or relationships, you can talk with your doctor.

What causes mood swings?

There are many possible causes of mood fluctuations. Changes in your relationship, stress, and other typical environmental changes can cause mood shifts.

Day-to-day causes that can have a negative effect on your mood include:

  • stress
  • a lack of sleep
  • hunger
  • interactions with people
  • the weather
  • the news
  • the need for a break
  • a lack of exercise

There are many aspects of life that can cause changes in your mood.

Hormonal causes of mood swings

Hormones can play a significant role in how you feel overall. Changes in hormones can affect many different aspects of life, including your mood.

Hormonal causes of mood changes include:

Stress and mood swings

Everyone experiences stress at different times throughout their life.

Stress is the way your body reacts to pressure. Stress is often a useful thing, as it can help you get out of a dangerous situation, help you push through a presentation at work, or help you complete a marathon. Typically, the stress hormones and your body’s response to stress will decrease after the situation or event is over.

Prolonged stress, however, can have negative physical, mental, and behavioral effects. Stress — especially prolonged stress — can also cause mood fluctuations.

Some ways stress can affect you physically include causing:

Some ways stress can affect your emotions and moods include causing:

Some ways stress can affect your behaviors include causing:

  • tearfulness
  • indecisiveness or inflexibility
  • withdrawal from people
  • snappiness at people
  • sleep issues
  • sexual issues
  • more drinking or smoking than usual

Get tips on managing stress here.

Psychological causes of mood swings

Certain psychological disorders can cause mood changes. Experiencing mood shifts is not always a symptom of a more serious condition, but sometimes it is.

If you have prolonged periods of time where you experience mood changes that negatively affect your life or relationships, talk with your doctor.

Some psychological causes of mood changes include:

Other causes of mood swings

There are many other factors and medical conditions that can cause mood changes. These include:

How do doctors treat mood swings?

Treatment for mood changes will often depend on what the underlying cause is. Your doctor will form a treatment plan for any psychological or medical condition that is the cause of your mood fluctuations.

There are many ways you can help manage mood changes not related to an underlying condition yourself. For example, you can try:

  • practicing mindfulness
  • connecting with others
  • taking time to do things you enjoy
  • practicing self-care
  • reducing stress
  • adjusting your diet
  • exercising more
  • adjusting your sleep patterns
  • asking for help

If you feel that you need extra help coping with your mood changes, you can contact a mental health professional. Therapy can equip you with better coping skills and ways to manage your emotions.

Visit our mental health and behavior hub here.

Summary

Mood swings are intense changes in your moods and emotions. They often occur due to stress, hormonal changes, and environmental factors.

There are many ways you can manage mood shifts not caused by an underlying condition. Sometimes, however, mood fluctuations indicate a more serious psychological or medical condition that needs treatment.

If you experience prolonged mood changes that begin to affect your daily life or relationships, you may wish to contact your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Vara Saripalli, Psy.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 14
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.