Myths About Mood Swings

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Image credit: photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

In our new series, "Myth of the Week," we'll be exploring some of the common misconceptions we may have regarding mental health. This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at the culprit behind mood swings.

Myth: "Mood Swings Are Always A Sign Of Mental Illness, And Probably Means That You're Bipolar"

Although it’s become a common part of the pop psych vernacular, accusing someone of "acting Bipolar" is rarely accurate. Often, the causes of rapid mood swings are from far more common -- and less expected -- sources.

Bipolar Disorder

"Acting Bipolar" has become a common way of describing anything from the antics of adolescents to the lifestyle of celebrities, and has even been used to describe the flip-flopping of politicians.

In fact, only 2.6% of the population over the age of 18 has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.

Bipolar disorder is a serious and often severe condition, and should not be taken lightly. However, it is misinformed to believe that rapid mood swings are an automatic indicator of a mental health issue.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV,) the diagnosis of Bipolar is dependent on the alternating states of depression and mania. The criterion indicates that each state lasts at least one week in order to be diagnosable as Bipolar.

Other mental health conditions, such as cyclothymia and Borderline Personality Disorder, manifest with more rapid, frequent shifts in mood.

More often, however, mood swings can be attributed to average, everyday occurrences that we simply overlook.

How Food Can Affect Our Moods

Our body is powered by sugar - molecules of glucose from the food we digest that is turned into energy. How we regulate that sugar has an enormous effect on our mood.

For people who are diabetic, hypoglycemic, or even sugar-sensitive, the wrong food at the wrong time can mean a massive mood shift.

An Ohio State University study conducted recently showed a correlation between low blood sugar levels and aggression. Low blood sugar can leave a person feeling weak, tired, dizzy, agitated, or even upset. It is the body’s way of alerting you that you need energy - and fast.

For those who have blood sugar issues, eating regularly and maintaining a lower-sugar diet helps to regulate spikes and dips in sugar levels, and may help regulate mood.

Hormones And Moods

The effect of hormones aren’t limited to women:

  • Although premenstrual syndrome (PMS,) menopause, and puberty can all trigger unstable moods, studies show that changes in testosterone can result in mood shifts, as well.
  • High testosterone can lead to irritability, anger, and aggression, whereas lower levels can result in depression, loss of sex drive, and lack of motivation.

And of course, both men and women have varying levels of testosterone, so monitoring these hormones can be helpful in identifying the source of mood swings.

Stress Too Can Affect Mood

Relationship problems, work, family, grief - all these can be factors in mood swings. If you are experiencing a wide range of emotions due to external factors, it may appear to outsiders as though your moods are unpredictable and swinging from one end of the spectrum to others. It is common and even expected that your moods will fluctuate as you cope with life and its challenges.

Can Substances Affect Our Moods?

An obvious but overlooked culprit of mood swings are substances. Medications can have numerous side effects that can often change your mood. And of course, drugs and alcohol can result in anger, depression, anxiety, instability, and rapid shifts in mood.

The bottom line: There are many causes of mood swings, and not all of them are psychological.


Regardless of the source, mood swings can be difficult to deal with. The help of a qualified therapist can assist you in developing tools to cope with the severity or expression of your mood swings. For more information, contact us at (516) 221-9494 today.

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