Humans are moody beings. We can be happy, sad, joyful, irritable, calm, agitated, energized, tired—the list goes on. Being moody and having mood swings is part of being human and is primarily driven by how we feel physically and what we are absorbing from our environment. But what about when mood swings become more frequent, or when we are always irritable?
Our mood is a significant determinant of our quality of life and overall health and wellbeing. When moodiness begins to impact our daily life, it can signal that something is amiss in our bodies and minds. It is essential to learn about what triggers your moodiness and how you can make changes to avoid those triggers. Ahead, six of the most common causes of mood swings and strategies on how to improve them to better your quality of life.
Our body's stress response is vital for our survival. When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight system, gets activated. When we have physical or psychological stress, our nervous system stimulates our adrenal glands to release epinephrine and norepinephrine. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also releases. Certain hormones also suppress during a stressful event, including hormones that regulate hunger, reproduction, and mood. After a stressful event passes, your hormones will stabilize within about 60 minutes.
Unfortunately, chronic stress is a widespread problem that underpins many health issues that people face. When cortisol levels remain consistently elevated, people can suffer from mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety to physical conditions, including heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, and diabetes. You likely have seen this in yourself: when you get stress out, you become irritable.
Identify areas of your life that are particularly stressful. Often, everything in our daily life becomes overwhelming because we overbook ourselves and leave ourselves little room to breathe in our day. Start by cutting out one or two small stressors in your regular activities and replacing that time with some form of self-care such as starting a meditation or mindfulness practice or enjoying a meandering walk outside. Once you get comfortable eliminating smaller triggers, you can gather momentum to face more significant stressors such as in your work or relationships.
Our bodies require specific nutrients that can only come from the food that we eat. When we are deficient in particular vitamins and minerals, our cognitive function can be impaired. Indeed, it becomes harder to remember things, focus, have a positive attitude, and think clearly. Many studies link vitamin and mineral deficiencies to moodiness, including B vitamins and vitamins C, D, and E, as well as calcium, chromium, iron, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies are also the result of other health conditions that may interfere with metabolizing nutrients.
Take a critical look at your diet to identify nutritional deficiencies. Make sure you are eating real, whole foods throughout the day. Eating food high in sugar and processed foods are unhealthy choices as they contain empty calories and contribute to weight gain, stomach upset, and can worsen irritability. Incorporate whole foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean protein, fish, fruits, and leafy greens. Try to make space in your day to plan and prepare your meals to know what is in your food.
Certain health conditions are known to cause mood swings, including:
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Bipolar spectrum disorder
- Thyroid conditions
- Sleep disorders
Any physical disruption to our system can affect our mood, but it is even more prevalent in untreated chronic illnesses.
Managing a chronic health condition is the best thing you can do to prevent moodiness. For example, if you have a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism, make sure that you are getting the right dose of your thyroid medication. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism, when uncontrolled, can include brain fog, depression, fatigue, moodiness, and several other unpleasant symptoms that can impact your quality of life. Make sure to see a medical provider specializing in comprehensive, holistic care to treat your specific health conditions.
While sex hormones play a critical role in both males and females, cyclical fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone regulate the female body. Women undergo several natural hormonal changes throughout their reproductive years, including puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause and menopause. And let's not forget the monthly hormone fluctuations that regulate the menstrual period.
Hormones have a tremendous impact on mood, especially when they are rise and fall rapidly. Estrogen and progesterone receptors can be found all over a woman's body, including her brain. Thus, rapid changes in hormones can cause moodiness and irritability and may lead to depression and anxiety, two common symptoms of the menopause transition.
If you notice intense mood swings and irritability, don't rule out your hormones. Take a look at your age and where you are in your monthly cycle. If you are in your early to mid-40s, you may be starting perimenopause, which is the phase before menopause. Perimenopause is often associated with several unpleasant symptoms, including irregular periods, weight gain, brain fog, and yes, moodiness. If you are struggling with your mood, this is an excellent opportunity to check in with your doctor for a complete medical exam and further education on changing hormones and what they might mean for you.
Low blood sugar
Are you familiar with the word "hangry?" A not-so-cute combination of being simultaneously hungry and angry. Skipping meals or eating too little food can make you irritated and short-tempered because your glucose levels are falling too low, which can offset the balance of other hormones. Our body requires glucose for energy so that our cells can function correctly. Low blood sugar can be life-threatening, especially in people with diabetes.
Avoid "hanger" and low blood sugar by eating regular meals throughout the day. Make sure your meals include whole foods that are good sources of energy. If you find a certain point in the day where you are more irritable or low energy, have healthy snacks on hand such as an apple with peanut butter or carrots and hummus.
Certain medications can affect your mood, including:
- Hormone replacement therapy and hormonal contraception
- Cholesterol medications (statins, in particular)
Sometimes, these drugs can lead to drug-induced depression (DID). Medications often work on the same brain receptors that help control your mood.
If you have just started a new medication, keep a journal of your mood swings. Document the frequency and severity. Also, make sure to note the time, what you were doing, and anything you ate. Journaling is a beneficial tool that your doctor can use to evaluate if you should continue with a specific medication or try a different option.
A note from Paloma Health
Several factors can cause mood swings. If you're worried about your mood swings, don't keep it to yourself! Talk with a trustworthy about taking a thyroid blood test to understand how your thyroid is functioning. Should your results show that your thyroid is underactive, it is easily treatable in almost everyone with thyroid hormone replacement medication and lifestyle modifications. Remember, when choosing medication with your thyroid doctor, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.