Apple Magazine

Your highs and lows

Putting mood swings in context can help determine if they are cause for concern

Mild and brief mood swings can be connected to changes in sleeping or eating patterns, increased stress and hormonal changes.

May 2011

We humans are emotional beings. We laugh. We cry. Sometimes we're angry and sometimes we're anxious. Most of the time, those emotions and the occasional swings between them are normal, but sometimes they can be cause for concern.

To know if moodiness is swinging out of control, Dr. Glenda MacQueen, head of psychiatry at the University of Calgary, says it's important to understand your normal temperament.

"We can all identify people who are even-tempered, and those who experience emotions more intensely and are more up and down," says MacQueen. "That is our background temperament and a good first indicator of how likely we are to have fluctuations in our mood."

Mild and brief mood swings can be connected to changes in sleeping or eating patterns, increased stress and hormonal changes. Eight hours of sleep a night is often regarded as a good rule of thumb, MacQueen says, as is eating nutritious foods regularly throughout the day. And regular exercise can help moderate moods and is good for body and mind alike.

Determining whether a mood change should be chalked up to more than just a sleepless night or skipped meal often comes down to context

"We should all have the ability to feel happy when good things happen and sad when bad things happen, but our moods should fit our environment," says MacQueen. "It is concerning if sadness or euphoria persist and there is nothing in your current situation to warrant those feelings."

She also warns about a sudden lack of emotion. "Sometimes people experience a state when they are unable to feel anything," says MacQueen. "They may not be sad, but they also don't experience joy, pleasure, interest or any kind of mood. If that lack of emotion persists it can be worrisome."

If persistent mood changes happen unpredictably and without cause, MacQueen recommends consulting a doctor.


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Kids and moods

Moodiness in children is part of growing up. Just like adults, some tots have temperaments that make them more prone to mood swings. But more than that, moods in young children have a lot to do with development.

"As children grow, they are still learning to control their emotions," says Calgary-based psychologist Dr. Roslyn Mendelson. Very young children are more prone to break into tears at the slightest sign of stress, whereas older children are less likely to cry as openly because they’ve learned the skills necessary to cope with their emotions.

You can help your child if she is experiencing a sudden mood shift. "Parents have to look at the age, the behaviour, the temperament and the circumstances, and help the child appropriately," says Mendelson. "Regardless, you want to let the child have their feelings, but not allow the expression of those feelings to interfere with their life."