What Exactly Are Mood Swings And How Do They Affect You?
The ability to identify what’s happening to the person in front of you makes you feel comfortable and reduces your uncertainty. When you meet someone who’s sad, you identify it, understand it, and might even start to empathize. That is, you’re familiar with the territory and you generally know how to respond in a more or less appropriate way. So what happens when you meet someone who’s showing signs of out of control emotions?
They’re not “bipolar,” they’re having mood swings
Now is a good time to clarify something about what the awful expression “they’re bipolar,” means. We often hear one person describe another as “bipolar” just because they don’t understand how the other person’s mood can change so quickly. Bipolar is a serious mental illness, also known as manic-depressive disorder.
According to the doctor Fred K. Berger (2016), these phases can last days or months. There’s a psychiatric diagnosis and specific treatment for these kinds of issues. So what we casually refer to as bipolar is actually much closer to a mood swing.
“When dealing with people, let us remember that we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”
Mood swings aren’t exactly considered a mental health issue or illness. So what are they and what do they refer to? They’re basically out of control emotions. There’s a sense of a lack of regulation in a person’s feelings and expression of basic emotions.
People who display these episodes of sadness and happiness have, for example, moments of uncontrollable sobbing or inappropriate laughter. It’s a symptom that links with certain conditions like autism or schizophrenia. But apparently healthy people can also suffer from this.
Illness or complicated affective moment?
Mood swings belong to the “spectrum of affective problems.” Affectivity is the group of responses a person feels and expresses towards internal factors (thoughts, etc) or external ones (work, family, social situations, etc). What’s the cause of these changes in mood or state of mind? Is it biology or is there a thought pattern behind it?
We’ve traditionally known that emotional regulation and control happens in the limbic system. This is a part of our brain structure. There’s a physical part of our brain that exists to express, regulate, and control our emotions.
“We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.”
– Marshall B. Rosenberg –
There’s a real element to all this that might mess up, change, or stop working properly without us being able to do anything about it. Brain damage is the main cause when it comes to excessive mood swings, and it’s absolutely limiting.
We normally see these kinds of problems in people who have MS, ALS, cardiovascular issues, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s. During a complicated affective moment we’ll have a hard time regulating emotions and expressions that belong to the same group, like sadness. Don’t confuse this with depression, though, because there are characteristics of depression (like appetite) that aren’t affected by mood swings.
So what are and aren’t mood swings
Mood swings surprise anybody who witnesses them. Exaggerating an otherwise neutral comment or laugh, or crying uncontrollably at an un-dramatic situation are warning signs.
We probably know someone who’s in the middle of or has gone through a traumatic divorce. They might have moments of relief during the week where they seem sad and sob. They might have other relaxed moments at a dinner with friends or watching a TV show. This doesn’t mean they’re having mood swings.
We also know that we can influence people’s emotional regulation in some way or another. There are studies and reviews being done by universities that officially prove this (R. Company, U. Oberst, and F. Sánchez, Psychology Bulletin, No. 104, 2012). In the case of mood swings, the margin for action for the surrounding people is very limited, if not completely nonexistent.
Having mood swings isn’t a condition, it’s just a temporary out of control state. Besides the serious cases, the person involved usually has stable moments in between. This affective problem can have really important consequences on a social and work-related level.
The person might undergo isolation, depression, or anxiety problems. If you find yourself experiencing these feelings, you should go to a doctor so they can do an evaluation, refer you to a specialist, or outline treatment if necessary.