"Mood swings" has often been an incorrectly used term. People talk about those that are emotional as though they have mood swings when it truth their emotions are perfectly normal reactions to life events. Someone that cries often or someone that's angry isn't necessarily suffering from a "swing" simply because they have a strong emotion. They just have stronger emotions.
True mood swings occur when you can go from happy to sad in a moment, without anything apparently triggering it. Unfortunately, many people with anxiety suffer from extreme mood swings as a response to their anxiety symptoms, and unfortunately, those swings tend almost always be negative.
Mood Swings = Anxiety?
Mood swings are so hard to diagnose because the emotions themselves feel completely natural - as though they're logical reactions to life events. Anxiety increases the frequency of these swings, especially towards negative emotions. Mood swings are rarely the only anxiety symptom, so take my anxiety test to find out more about your anxiety.
Causes of Mood Swings From Anxiety
Mood swings are one of those symptoms that may be a symptom of anxiety directly, or they may be a symptom of symptoms - in other words, for some people, other symptoms of anxiety cause so much distress that they cause mood swings, rather than the anxiety itself leading to mood swings.
This is common in those with more severe symptoms, that find that while their symptoms essentially cause them to become more emotional, which in turn leads to mood swings. Take my free 7-minute anxiety test if you haven't yet to find out the severity of your anxiety.
All emotional swings and reactions can be hard to diagnose and may have any combination of possible causes. The most likely include:
Hormones and Neurotransmitters
The main causes of mood swings are your hormones and neurotransmitters. Anxiety may be a mental health condition, and it may be something forged over years of experiences, but it also changes the way your body works. It reduces hormone balance and often changes neurotransmitter (brain chemical) production.
Your brain and body chemistry affects the way you think and the way you react and can make you both more emotional and more prone to rapid negative emotions. People like to believe that their thoughts and feelings are always rational and justified. But when your neurotransmitters are not ideal for your brain, it alters the way messages are sent and can cause you to have severe mood swings.
We say "out of balance" because every person reacts differently to different brain chemicals. Some people with anxiety have low levels of one neurotransmitter but not others. Some may even have high levels of one but not others. The main neurotransmitters involved are:
The same is true with hormones, as several different types of hormones can cause the body and mind to "feel" differently than it would if these were in balance. No matter what causes your anxiety, the more these are out of balance, the worse your mood swings may be.
Anxiety can also be incredibly tiring. So much so, in fact, that some people are simply unable to handle it anymore to the point where they become incredibly stressed every time they feel anxious and are rarely able to contain their discomfort.
This doesn't have a proper term, but it can best be described as "mental fatigue." You become essentially so tired of dealing with anxiety that you start to become emotional at the slightest hint of anxiety symptoms.
It's very common for those with panic attacks. Some people with panic attacks get genuinely depressed and emotional every time they have an attack because they become so debilitated from dealing with them. These types of mood swings are prevalent.
Anxiety also creates fear, and fear itself is a powerful emotion. When you encounter a fearful thought or a fear-inducing problem, the more afraid you are, the more you are emotional as a response to that fear.
Once you experience one heavy emotion, it's possible to experience others - especially when those emotions are so negative. It's not unlikely to find that your fear was so pronounced that you ultimately become more prone to sadness, anger, etc. as a result.
Other Causes of Mood Swings
Anxiety is something that changes your lifestyle a great deal. It may be harder to go out, or harder to socialize with friends. Life simply becomes more difficult, and the more difficult life is, the more it's possible that your coping system (your friends, your happiness, etc.) breaks down with it.
Coping is a mental skill and one that often struggles when you have anxiety. The more it breaks down, the more likely you are going to have emotional twists and turns.
Finally, it's also possible that your mood swings have nothing to do with anxiety at all, but dealing with anxiety regularly triggers them more often than you used to deal with during life. Not everything is caused by anxiety directly, but often anxiety brings out some of the emotional issues that people already struggled with.
How to Control Anxiety Mood Swings
Emotions can be very hard to control on their own. Emotions are by their very nature somewhat irrational. Emotions can make you feel and think things that are disproportionate to the situation.
Because emotions can be difficult to stop, the best thing you can do is minimize your reaction to them. You can do this through techniques that force you to acknowledge the way you are feeling and how you are reacting. For example:
- If you notice that you are upset suddenly, immediately stop what you are doing and try to brainstorm why you are upset and whether or not you should be upset. Look at each factor that happened before and after and see if your reaction was correct or incorrect to the situation as it occurred.
- If you feel like you are about to have a mood swing, see if you can leave the situation. Give yourself a moment to think, rather than immediately reacting. Often mood swings build upon themselves because you acknowledge them and act upon them too quickly. Leaving the situation can ensure this doesn't happen.
- Fake the positive emotion. After you've realized that you are experiencing a negative mood, faking it mockingly can actually get you back on track. Don't try to fight the mood and "pretend to feel better." That will just increase your overall stress. Rather, think of it more as a game where you are trying to act out a play in the mood you wish to be. You'll find that over time you adopt these emotions faster than if you allowed yourself to mope in the swing you are experiencing.
All of these can help you control your mood swings, but they're unlikely to be enough if you don't also learn to control your anxiety since only controlling your anxiety can help your body regulate your hormones and neurotransmitters and restore your ability to cope with stress.
I've helped thousands of people overcome their mood swings and anxiety, starting with my free anxiety test. It takes 7 minutes to complete and will give you insight into how your anxiety works and what you can do to control it.
Click here to start the test.
Bowen, Rudy, Malin Clark, and Marilyn Baetz. Mood swings in patients with anxiety disorders compared with normal controls. Journal of affective disorders 78.3 (2004): 185-192.
Altemus, Margaret. Sex differences in depression and anxiety disorders: potential biological determinants. Hormones and Behavior 50.4 (2006): 534-538.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 07, 2017.