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What Are Emotional Mood Swings?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Emotional mood swings are extreme changes in emotions or behavior that may occur without warning. Mood swings are quite common, and can have a variety of underlying causes, such as hormonal changes, chemical imbalances, or severe stress. Though many people experience occasional mood swings, they can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as bipolar disorder.

An emotional mood swing can occur between any two types of mood. For instance, a person who is having a generally good day might suddenly be overcome with feelings of sadness, depression, and loneliness. Mood swings can work in the other direction, for instance, a person who is extremely angry suddenly becoming euphorically happy or even filled with uncontrollable laughter. Whatever the direction, mood swings can be quite startling and worrisome for both the individual experiencing the swing and those around them. A mood swing can be especially frustrating, as the shifts in emotions may seem to have no direct or reasonable cause.

One of the most common causes of emotional mood swings is hormone shifts. Men and women can both experience emotional side effects of hormonal change, although this syndrome is more often linked to women due to the predictable pattern of hormonal changes that accompany menstruation. Adolescents, pregnant women, and women going through menopause may be more subject to hormonally-driven emotional mood swings. In some cases, people on medication that alters hormonal release may also be prone to mood shifts.

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A chemical imbalance in the brain can also cause extreme mood swings. Chemical imbalances occur when the brain releases too many or too few of the neurotransmitters that affect emotions, such as dopamine and serotonin. Chemical imbalances can be difficult to definitively diagnose, but are often treated with medication that attempts to restore the balance of neurotransmitters.

In some cases, emotional mood swings can be traced to unusual or prolonged episodes of severe stress. A person under enormous stress may experience sleep deprivation or a chronic state of anxiety, fear, or worry. This exhausting combination can lead to a lessened ability to control moods, and a heightened potential for irritability, depression, and panic attacks.

Prolonged and severe mood swings can be a sign of an underlying psychological or chemical condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. In these cases, mood swings may be a daily concern, or episodes of unexplainable depression or euphoria may last for days or weeks before abruptly shifting. Doctors often recommend consulting with a psychologist or family doctor if emotional mood swings occur frequently or become worrisome for any reason.

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