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Why do we still experience mood swings as adults, and what can we do about them?

Written by Amy Beecham

It turns out mood swings aren’t just confined to the tumultuous teenage years, after all. 

I can admit it now, but I was quite a melodramatic teenager. It wasn’t uncommon for me to come in from a bad day at school and throw myself onto the bed declaring my life over because I’d received a bad grade or a classmate didn’t like me back.

But by dinner, I’d always be right as rain, unscathed by the despair I’d professed just hours earlier.

Theatrics aside, my erratic behaviour was classically placed down to teenage hormones. If I was elated one minute and crying the next, that was just part and parcel of being an adolescent girl.

However, over a decade later, I feel increasingly at the whim of my emotions. Even after a great day at work or a fun social experience, I find myself turning strangely melancholy, only to snap out of it a short time later. I experience emotions I can’t explain, going from anger to jealousy to anxiety without being able to put my finger on why.

“I’m a full-blown adult and I’m having mood swings like I’m 14 again,” I told a friend recently.

I had thought the days of living at the mercy of my body’s hormones and chemicals were behind me, that I’d developed past the point where a sudden mood could make or break me.

It seems not, but I’m not alone either.

“Everyone has mood swings,” Gail Marra, a clinical hypnotherapist, tells Stylist. “It’s perfectly normal. In fact, it would be impossible not to have them.”

Marra explains that mood swings are a result of abnormal levels of a certain neurotransmitter, such as serotonin, which affects the brain and nervous system, altering your mood without you feeling in control. Mood swings are also caused by the natural fluctuation of hormones, but can be made worse by factors such as a lack of sleep, alcohol consumption and stress.

So the problem is not that we’re still experiencing mood swings later in life, but how we respond to them.

Changes in mood are more often than not natural and perfectly healthy, even as an adult

According to Marra,when we’re teenagers, we let our mood swings rip. There’s no deep thinking; we just take them as they come and move on. However, when we reach adulthood, we start to try and control them, which is where problems can arise.

But as adults with responsibilities, we clearly don’t have the same licence to be as surly as our teenage selves were. What are we to do when we’re unable to curl up and wait out any fits of emotion?

“It’s about responding versus reacting,” Marra continues. “Reacting is about the immediate knee-jerk, whereas responding involves a calm reply to aggravating external factors.”

“When we feel low, our conscious mind starts to ask why,” she shares. “We search within ourselves to recall upsetting times or logical reasons why we might feel that way.

“The reasons might well be there, but it’s not always helpful to place so much onus on them, otherwise we find ourselves thinking about how we stay in it rather than moving through it.”

It’s true that the pandemic has forced many of us to sit for longer with our emotions, without the usual distractions of busy everyday life.

“We spent two years feeling under threat, wondering: ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ ‘Is this going to end?’ So it’s natural to feel out of sorts,” Marra suggests.

“Now we’re getting back into the swing of ‘normal’ life, we have to contend with whether we remember how, or if we want to at all.”

So how can we learn to manage mood swings as a part of our adult lives?

“It’s important for us as adults to look after our mental health and closely monitor anything that might be affecting our moods,” Stephanie Taylor, a health expertat StressNoMore, tells Stylist.

“While things such as menstruation, pregnancy and menopause are unavoidable, with mood swings inevitable in certain individuals more than others, there are things that we can do to try and reduce them.

Alongside the classic advice of focusing on sleep health, ensuring regular exercise and sunlight and practising positive habits like meditation, Taylor suggests keeping track of your emotional state by documenting your moods if they are becoming a concern.

“This will help you identify any unusual patterns or triggers which might be causing your mood to worsen,” she explains. “Not only will documenting your mood swings help you better understand what’s causing them, but it could be beneficial if you find yourself going to see a psychotherapist or a doctor later down the line.

“But remember that everyone is different. What is causing one person’s mood swings might not be the same for another. So, be kind to yourself and others and don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected] 

Images: Getty

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