Mood swings

Experiencing changes in mood day-to-day is common, provided that they don’t interfere with your daily life. If your moods do start to have a pronounced impact on you daily, it could be an indication that there is an underlying condition present, or it can point towards side effects of medication that you may be taking.

  • Various mental disorders can lead to mood swings.
  • Can be triggered by stress, medication and changes in life.
  • Treatment depends on the severity, ranging from lifestyle changes to talking therapy.

If you are concerned about your mood swings, you may wish to speak to one of our GPhC- registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. Having booked an appointment between 9.30am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, they can issue advice about your symptoms and treatment options, and provide prescriptions and referral to specialists, where suitable. 

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Possible causes

What causes mood swings?

The biggest cause of mood swings are mental health conditions. They can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the area of the brain that regulates mood. Mental health conditions include:

  • Bipolar disorder: A condition which is characterised by episodes of mania and depression. Mania can make you feel energised, active and unable to sleep, whereas depressive episodes may involve feelings of sadness and worthlessness.
  • Depression: This is the feeling of being persistently sad for weeks or months (not just for a couple of days) and not enjoying things which you usually would and struggling to function properly as a consequence.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Similar to bipolar disorder, but less severe in nature
  • Personality disorders: Some personality disorders can lead to intense mood swings which can last between a few hours and several days.

Other causes

Hormones can have a significant influence on mood swings; hormonal changes during puberty and pregnancy are common causes of changes in mood. 

The hormones lead to chemical changes in the brain, and are a natural part of the body’s development. However, if they are particularly extreme, you should consult a doctor. 

It’s also possible that abusing alcohol or drugs can cause mood swings; an over reliance on drugs and alcohol can make a person irritable if they go through periods without them.

Diagnosing the cause of mood swings

A diagnosis of mood swings cannot be made via tests, investigations or examinations. The only way a doctor can diagnose whether you have an underlying condition is by establishing the circumstances that have led to your mood swings. 

A doctor will ask about the nature of your mood swings: are they distinct episodes that last several weeks or are they much shorter? Do they coincide with any medication that you may be taking? What impact have your mood swings had on your life? Have they been accompanied by other symptoms? 

It’s likely that due to the conditions related to mood swings, a doctor will look to assess your symptoms over an extended period. They may ask you to keep a note of your thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. You may also be asked to complete a questionnaire to give details on the nature of your mood swings.

This process of diagnosis has improved a lot over the years, as doctors can now differentiate between mental health conditions which can lead to mood swings. Previously, a condition such as bipolar disorder was often grouped with schizophrenia.

If you’re experiencing mood swings and struggling to identify their cause, you may wish to speak to one of our GMC-registered clinicians, who can provide input and advice. They can be contacted via our video consultation service between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week. 

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Types of Treatment

How are mood swings treated?

Treatment for mood swings largely depends on what the underlying cause is. There are various treatment options and lifestyle adjustments that you can make for mental health conditions. 

Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder usually entail treatment with lithium, which is a tablet that can be taken during depressive and manic episodes to help stabilise mood.

If depression is causing mood swings, there are various antidepressants that can be prescribed. Lithium is an option for more serious cases of depression. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often incorporated into treatment for depression, which involves training the brain to change thought patterns in certain scenarios. It’s a common long-term treatment option for people with a mental health condition. There are also various other talking therapy techniques that are available, such as interpersonal therapy, which focuses on how you view relationships. 

It’s important to construct a treatment plan with a doctor, and communication throughout a course of treatment is vital. Friends and family can also offer support and care whilst you are undergoing treatment, and may help you to explain your thoughts and feelings during a period of low mood or mania.

What you can do to help mood swings

There are several lifestyle measures that can also help to regulate mood and are often recommended for mental health conditions. These include:

  • Avoiding potential triggers that may alter mood significantly. This can be difficult, and in some cases isn’t possible. However, alcohol, recreational drugs and caffeine are common triggers which should be avoided where you can. 
  • Creating a routine that doesn’t involve long periods with your own thoughts. This could mean regularly exercising and eating at roughly the same time each day. Establishing a regular sleeping pattern is also useful, even if you struggle to sleep; going to bed at the same time will help to regulate your body clock.
  • Joining a therapy group can provide you with a space in which you’re able to freely discuss your thoughts and feelings with others who may be in the same position. They may have had similar experiences and so can offer empathy and advice.

If you’re experiencing changes in mood that are affecting you, our registered clinicians are available to speak to between 9.30am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, via our online video consultation service. They can provide advice and help to identify the cause of your mood swings if you have not already been diagnosed. 

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How long is it normal to have a mood swing for?

It depends on their severity and to what extent they impact on you day-to-day. Mood swings can vary dramatically in their duration. In bipolar disorder, episodes of mania and depression can last for months at a time, whereas other swings in mood may be inconsequential and last for only a few hours.

Are mood swings serious?

Mood swings can be serious if someone has bipolar disorder for instance, or if they’re extreme in nature in general.

Conversely, mild mood swings can be a daily occurrence depending on various circumstances, such as quality of sleep, stress and even hunger.

Can I get treatment for mood swings?

There is no specific treatment for mood swings; in order to resolve them, you will have to treat the underlying condition. 

If the cause is related to a mental health condition, there are various medications and talking therapies. If the mood swings are hormonal, changes to lifestyle can sometimes have a positive influence.

How can I prevent mood swings?

In most cases, it’s not possible to prevent mood swings, as they are causes of underlying conditions which can’t be anticipated, such as depression.

However, if mood swings are brought about by certain triggers, avoiding these triggers can help to stop mood swings from becoming more problematic.

Can I speak to a doctor about mood swings?

Using our online video consultation service, you can speak to one of our GPhC-registered clinicians. They can issue advice, prescriptions for treatment and referral to specialists, where appropriate. Our clinicians are available for consultation between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020

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