Abrupt changes in mood, or “mood swings,” aren’t always a cause for concern. Rapid shifts triggered by periods of stress or transition, for example, are often temporary. Persistent fluctuations could be related to an underlying condition and may be managed with treatment.
It’s natural to have days when you feel sad or overjoyed. Shifts in mood that do not affect your day-to-day life on a regular basis are generally considered typical.
But if you frequently have large shifts in mood, like from intense happiness or euphoria to deep sadness or despair, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Several mental, emotional, and physical health conditions can affect your mood. Substance use, including alcohol and nicotine, can also play a role.
So can prescribed medications, even when used as directed. It’s important to remember that mood changes aren’t always a sign of misuse.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, help is available right now:
Mental health conditions can affect how you feel, think, and behave.
Some mental health conditions, like clinical depression and bipolar disorder, are considered mood, or affective, disorders.
Depressive disorders encompass a wide range of conditions, including the following:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD) is often characterized by long periods of low mood, hopelessness, and fatigue.
- Persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, is considered less severe than MDD, though symptoms typically last for 2 years or more.
- Major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), typically occurs during the summer or winter months.
- Perinatal depression occurs during pregnancy.
- Postpartum depression occurs after giving birth.
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), which is typically only diagnosed in adolescents, involves outbursts that aren’t on target with their developmental stage.
Bipolar disorder can also cause intense shifts in mood, energy levels, and behavior. There are three types:
- bipolar l disorder, which is characterized by the appearance of one or more episodes of mania
- bipolar ll disorder, which is characterized by the appearance of one or more episodes of major depression and one or more episodes of hypomania
- cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, is characterized by symptoms of mania and depression that are less severe than what would be considered an episode
Some mood disorders, like premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), result from hormonal fluctuations during your overall menstrual cycle.
Other mental health conditions can also affect your mood, even if they’re not considered affective disorders. For example, you may experience extreme changes in mood with:
- anxiety disorders
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- personality disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Physical health conditions, especially chronic or terminal illnesses, can also affect mood.
This could be a direct result of changes in the body — hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause, for example, can affect your mood — or indirectly by triggering feelings of anxiety or depression.
Other examples include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- heart disease
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- thyroid disorders
If you notice new or worsening symptoms, it’s important to consult your healthcare professional. They may be able to recommend a new treatment or connect you with mental health support.
Sometimes, medications used to treat an underlying health condition can unintentionally affect your mood. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for example, may cause an uptick in feelings of agitation and anxiety.
Steroid medications are another common cause of intense or unexpected changes in mood.
High doses of corticosteroids can cause:
Anabolic-androgenic steroids can also have an effect, especially if they’re misused.
Be sure to consult your prescribing clinician if these feelings persist or worsen. They may be able to recommend an alternative and can help you safely taper off your current medication.
It’s important to transition off of medication with medical supervision. Avoid decreasing or discontinuing use before you can consult your healthcare professional.
Smoking cigarettes, vaping nicotine, or using other nicotine products can cause feelings of irritability and anxiety.
These feelings may be temporarily relieved by ingesting more nicotine — fulfilling the craving — but the underlying effects, or symptoms of withdrawal, will resume shortly thereafter.
You may also experience significant shifts in mood with other substances, including:
If you’re concerned about your use of any substance, know you’re not alone. You might consider talking with a healthcare professional if you feel comfortable doing so.
This information is subject to patient confidentiality laws. But in some cases — usually limited to instances of child or public endangerment — your healthcare professional may be legally obligated to report this information to law enforcement.
You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 800-622-4357 (HELP) or send your ZIP code via text message to 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Safe Locator may also be a source of support.
If you’re concerned about a loved one and unsure what to say, here’s a place to start. You can also call or text SAMHSA to learn more.
Mood changes that disrupt your ability to navigate your daily activities or responsibilities could be cause for concern, especially if you’re unsure of the underlying reason.
This might look like:
- difficulty falling asleep or frequently oversleeping, interfering with your commitments at home, work, or school
- prolonged disinterest in things that would typically bring you joy, including social activities or hobbies
- feeling “out of control” or engaging in risk-taking behaviors outside of your usual routine, like spending money set aside for your rent or mortgage on a last-minute vacation or online shopping spree
- having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or thoughts of harming others
A healthcare professional can work with you to determine why you feel this way and what you can do to resolve it.
Depending on the circumstances, it might be helpful to take note of what’s happening around you when you experience a shift in mood. Reflecting on past changes in mood may also be informative.
This can help your clinician assess whether a specific event, environment, or other lifestyle factor triggers your symptoms.
What causes rapid ‘mood swings’?
Unexpected shifts in mood aren’t always a sign of an underlying health condition or a side effect of medication or substance use.
What is an example of a ‘mood swing’?
Although any change in mood could be considered a “mood swing,” the term often refers to shifts that are noticeably large.
You might not notice a slight decrease in happiness if your overall mood is still high, but you’ll likely pick up on the shift if you go from excitement or euphoria to deep despair.
What are ADHD-related ‘mood swings’ like?
People who have ADHD may notice that their emotions, interest, or focus change from one end of the spectrum to the other without warning. This may be especially prominent for folks who have unmanaged or unmedicated ADHD.
Common examples include:
- alternating between feeling energized or social and feeling mentally or emotionally drained
- bouncing between a complete lack of focus or interest and periods of hyperfocus or hyperfixation
- getting sidetracked easily or being prone to distraction
Is treatment always necessary for mood swings?
You might be able to manage infrequent fluctuations without clinical treatment, though it’s certainly an option if you feel you might benefit.
It’s worth talking with a healthcare professional if your symptoms are causing you distress or negatively affecting your life.
A healthcare professional can help you evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and what you can change or add to your routine.
Generally speaking, anything that benefits your physical health will likely have a positive impact on your overall well-being. This includes:
Experiencing a wide range of emotions is a natural part of life. Some periods of life may bring significant highs, while others may bring considerable lows. Do what you can to give yourself grace as you navigate your day to day.
If you have concerns about how you’re feeling or the impact your moods have on your overall quality of life, consider reaching out to a trusted partner, friend, or family member for support.
You might also consider reaching out to a primary care physician or other healthcare professional. They can answer any questions you may have and, if you’d like, connect you with a mental health professional.
Tess Catlett is a sex and relationships editor at Healthline, covering all things sticky, scary, and sweet. Find her unpacking her inherited trauma and crying over Harry Styles on Twitter.