Happy one minute, crazy the next? Many people report that sudden bouts of irritability or despondency seem to arrive from nowhere, leaving them feeling a distinct lack of control over their emotions and lives.
I often find in my clinic that sitting down with clients for a thorough case-take can help us both understand what might be contributing to mood swings, and therefore how to help achieve more balance and calmness.
Here are nine of the most common causes of mood swings and some strategies to address them and reclaim your calm.
1. Get Good Sleeps
The most basic and yet the most profound nourishment our body and mind can receive is a good night’s sleep. It is surprising how many people have sleeping problems, or just inadequate, unrefreshing sleeps. In her recent book The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington calls our cultural situation a ‘sleep deprivation crisis’ that needs a ‘revolution’! Without adequate sleep, our resilience is less, our decision-making is poor, we are less productive, and less joyful. All of these things contribute significantly to our mood and to mood imbalances. If you are experiencing mood swings, the very first place you should be looking is at your bed. Click here for more information on sleep and strategies for better sleep.
2.Eating Regularly & Right
One common habit I see often in clients who come to see me is that they eat good food, just not often enough! Many people skip breakfast, or have a coffee for breakfast, then graze a bit during the day and don’t really have a proper meal until dinner time. Other people have a piece of toast and jam for breakfast and a muffin for lunch and then nothing until dinner. Having too little quality food during the day is a recipe for mood swings. Eating quality meals and snacks, ideally that all contain some protein and some fibre, helps to balance our blood sugars, our appetite, our energy levels, and most definitely helps to balance our mood.
Not eating regularly enough can make people hangry! Some people have amazing stamina, and can feel great on three good meals a day, but many people need good snacks in between meals too to sustain and balance them. Reducing sugary meals and snacks and refined carbohydrates like white-flour products, and replacing them with more nutrient-dense options can make an incredible difference to your mood. For example, replace jam on white toast for hummus and avocado on wholegrain sourdough. Or replace a salad sandwich lunch with a salmon salad lunch or an omelette. Good snack options include raw nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, vegetable sticks and hummus, boiled eggs, corn thins with avocado, or protein smoothies.
3.Healthy Gut, Happy Mind
Have you heard about the human microbiome? Did you know that we are made up of more bacterial cells than human cells? And do you know about the staggering amounts of research now showing that the bacteria in your gut helps determine how prone you are to mood imbalances and depression? It seems that the ecosystem of bacteria and microbes living in our gut has a huge role to play in our mental health. This is a whole other topic for another time, but the basics go somethings like this:
- If your digestion is happy, you have more chance of being happy yourself. If not, it may need some rebalancing
- Our friendly bacteria is negatively affected by antibiotic use, too much of the wrong foods, too much stress, etc
- Our gut health is improved by eating fresh whole foods, foods that suit us, fermented foods, probiotic supplements, and fibres of all kinds
Click here to read more about improving your digestive health. The most obvious and rapid improvements I see clinically in this area are in babies and infants. Once they have happy tummies and no more digestive pain and discomfort, they are happier, calmer people. We can learn a lot about ourselves from looking at our little ones!
So many women feel at the mercy of their hormones and like they are on an emotional rollercoaster, especially premenstrually. A client reported to me this week that her 12 year-old daughter recently said to her “Mum, is it normal to NOT feel crazy before my period?”! In her short menstrual life, every month she would experience huge emotional upset, and yet her last cycle was absolutely fine, so much so that she was worried! Many women are in a similar situation, simply expecting to turn into a menstrual mess or menstrual monster, because that has been their norm. There are so very many things to be done about this! Please read here for a detailed look at how to balance your hormones, naturally.
5.Address Your Stress; Gratitude & Joy
It’s no dazzling revelation to say that stress has a terrible impact on our mood. We know this. But when we are faced with stressful daily situations, how can we manage this? There is abundant science developing around positive psychology. This is the practice of changing negative thought patterns into positive ones, and how changing perceptions helps to actually change what happens in your life. Positive psychology is also about how we create meaning in our lives, and what happiness means to us.
Cultivating gratitude or appreciation for what we have, rather than focussing on what we don’t have, or what we need to get done, is a great start on the path to more mindfulness and joy. Connecting with our own breath is also a good starting point, noticing our breath and breathing deeply can help us tune back into our bodies and give us a moment to reflect.
Herbal medicine offers so much to help us deal with stress when we need extra support; nervines such as passionflower and lemon balm can help to calm us if we’re feeling frazzled, while adaptogenic herbs such as withania help us to actually feel calmer and sleep better when faced with stress.
6.Exercise: Move Your Body
One of the many benefits of regular movement and exercise is that it improves your mood. Even just a 30 minute walk can help improve depression and anxiety. Movement gets oxygen flowing around the body, and promotes the production of feel-good hormones, making us feel more relaxed, calm and happy. Getting outdoors can also have a positive impact on mood. If you’re not a natural gym-bunny or sportsperson, aim for a half hour walk outside in the elements every day. Yes, even in the middle of winter! Winter feels so much more alive when you can feel the cold on your cheeks and see the beautiful shapes trees make when stripped of their leaves.
7.Cut The Caffeine
Reducing our intake of stimulants can have a drastic effect on our mood. Because stimulants like caffeine are designed to kick us into a higher gear, revving us up and waking us up by stimulating the release of stress hormones and blood sugars, when these wear off we often have the opposite effect of feeling more tired and depleted. Both states can make us more irritable, when we are over-stimulated and going too fast (which often makes us intolerant and edgy) or when we are un-stimulated and feeling tired and grumpy. Everyone has a different comfort level for caffeine intake, depending on how sensitive we are. For some, one cup of coffee a day is a perfect balance, while for others this will still get the highs and lows swinging too much for comfort. Some people are sensitive also to the caffeine in tea. If in doubt, slowly reduce your caffeine intake until you find your balance. Having a few weeks off is always a good idea to re-calibrate! Then reintroducing caffeine you will notice what a powerful effect it can have.
Can alcohol make us more volatile and grumpy? Can alcohol make us more depressed and unsettled? Ask anyone who’s ever had a hangover and you’ll know the answer is YES. Ask almost anyone who’s ever given up drinking for a month or so and they’ll tell you how much more even-tempered they felt. There are multiple reasons for why alcohol can have this detrimental effect on our mood. Firstly, it depletes not only our B vitamins, magnesium and zinc that are so essential for a calm nervous system, but it also depletes our tryptophan, and essential ingredient for making serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’. Secondly, alcohol places an extra burden on our livers, and a sluggish liver often leads to multiple health problems, including the potential for making us more irritable and grumpy. Everyone has a different ‘normal’ when it comes to alcohol consumption, determined largely by our social and cultural environment. Going alcohol-free for a month has become increasingly popular, as people proclaim to be doing ‘Dry July’ or ‘Feb-Fast’. This is a wonderful chance to give your liver a break and to see how your energy and mood responds to no alcohol. If this isn’t an option for you, saving a drink for the weekends is a good start!
9.Check Your Levels: Bs, Magnesium, Zinc (and the rest!)
Nutrient deficiencies and imbalances can have far-reaching consequences, not only on our physical health but our mental and emotional health too. Clients so often report to me that taking a Vitamin B complex makes them feel like they can sail more easily through stressful situations, and that they feel more tolerant. If you are low in magnesium, improving your levels may help ease tension and anxiety. Low zinc levels in children especially can make them quicker to anger and less able to manage stress. Nutrient imbalances are highly individual however, and it is worth having a proper assessment to determine which nutrients may be of use. Some other nutrients implicated in mood imbalance are Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin D.
In summary, try these steps to get off the swing and find your solid ground once more:
- Reduce/avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol
- Eat regularly, plenty of fibre and protein
- Address any digestive or hormonal imbalances
- Check for any food reactivities
- Take a serious look at how you manage stress
- Check out and rebalance any potential nutrient imbalances
- Get Physical! Movement, activity, oxygen to the brain, the great outdoors
- Get a really really really good sleep, as often as possible
- Get support if you need it! Naturopathic medicine offers so much in this area