It's time for the second installment of my new blog series: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You. Today's topic? Mood swings.
We've all been there: one minute we're happy and the next we want to bite someone's head off (literally).
We may joke about our mood swings, but when it comes right down to it, our mood swings are a serious issue, especially if they are occurring on a regular basis. Today, we're going to delve deep into what mood swings are, common causes, and remedies to help alleviate the erratic mood changes!
What are Mood Swings?
Mood swings can be considered unstable moods which can change very rapidly. They can be caused by a number of factors, but what remains the same is how they can completely change our lives, relationships, and overall well-being.
What are the Common Causes of Mood Swings?
Hormones are probably considered the most common cause of mood swings. Whether it is that time of the month or we are suffering from low or abnormal hormonal levels in general, it is critical to make sure that our hormones are balanced and within normal ranges to ensure a stable mood.
Interestingly, diet plays a huge role in mood swings, and I’m not just talking about how crabby you get when you forget to eat. No, I’m talking about a myriad of other issues around diet, including blood sugar regulation, gut health, and diet-related stress.
Sugar is one of the greatest emotional regulators, as most people use sugar almost like a drug to help them when they are feeling sluggish or depressed. However, this is not a normal or healthy behavior, as excess sugar in the diet causes blood sugar irregularities and issues, all of which can contribute to mood swings, as well as a host of other problems (diabetes anyone?!).
But the scary part is, even if we aren’t using sugar as a drug or a mood enhancer, its effects can still impact our mood!
When it comes to our blood sugar, having levels too high or too low are both dangerous, especially when we are experiencing both, followed by large spikes and crashes in levels as well. When our blood sugar gets too low or we go too long without eating, we often become crabby, irritable, dizzy, unable to focus, and tired.
On the other hand, high blood sugar levels may leave us feeling “great” until we crash 30-60 minutes later, leaving our body and mood in a worse state than before.
On the other hand, issues with our guts and digestive systems can also be the source of mood swings. The more and more information I learn about our gut, the more and more I realize just how vital it is to have a healthy gut. Our gut health dictates the health of our entire body! No small feat there!
What is key to recognize about our gut health and mood is the intricate connection between the brain and gut. It is a back-and-forth chain reaction: gut health can affect brain health, but mental health can also effect gut health. And when this cycle is abused, the effects can be disastrous, especially in the case of mood swings.
The gut produces most of our body’s serotonin, an extremely important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate our mood. Without adequate serotonin levels, our bodies don’t stand a chance against depression, anxiety, and other mood issues.
Therefore, when our guts are damaged after years of a processed food diet (one that includes gluten and sugar), antibiotic usage (these are NOT good at all for our gut health), and stress, we set ourselves up for mood swings and other disorders. We need a plethora of good gut bacteria to help digest our food, produce serotonin, and keep our bodies running smoothly, but when we have factors in our lives that disrupt our gut (like those mentioned above), our mental health declines.
Diet-related stress can also be a cause of mood swings, as well as normal stress from every day activities.
Diet-related stress can come from two sources. First, it could be our own mental stress about the food we are eating, if we are trying to be perfect or super restrictive with our diet choices (1200 calories a day diet ring a bell?!).
Second, diet-related stress can also come from the food itself. If we are choosing to fill our plates with processed food, gluten, vegetable oils, and sugar, or if we are severely restricting our calories or any macronutrient(s), we aren’t fueling our bodies properly to thrive. Therefore, our body becomes internally stressed from the lack of fuel, nourishment, and vitamins, leading to mental and physical symptoms, one of which is mood swings. Have you ever been around a chronic dieter that is happy?!
Stress from our everyday lives can also be the source of our mood swings. If we aren’t happy in our job or relationships, or if we have a stressful home life, we can experience mood swings. ”Stress reduces cognitive flexibility and the ability to “switch gears” or distract yourself from a bad mood” (source). In addition, a stressful life may also lead to sleep problems, a nutrient-poor diet, and relationship issues, all of which in and of themselves cause mood swings.
Lastly, other causes of mood swings from stress can come from overexercising, excess caffeine intake, social worries, dehydration, and lack of relaxation time.
Relief for Mood Swings
After listing all of the causes of mood swings, I hope that it is now clear that mood swings can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are more common or severe than others. But, what is key to discover for ourselves is exactly what our triggers for mood swings. By understanding the root causes of our mood swings, we are better able to manage our mood and develop a plan to get our mood under control.
For me personally, I experience mood swings when I go too long without eating, when I don’t get enough sleep or I stay up past my bedtime, or when I have a long day/week that left me no time to myself.
Therefore, I always make sure to have a small snack in my purse that I can leave in there at all times for emergencies when I know that I need food ASAP. Or, if I know will be staying up later than usual, I like to take the time to mentally prepare for it, as well as make sure I have enough nourishment throughout the day and get enough sleep the few days prior.
Once we uncover the main causes of our mood swings, it’s time to alleviate our symptoms! Not all of these solutions will work for every person, but give them a try – hopefully one will be the perfect solution for you!
Eat a real, whole food diet: focus on eliminating sugar, gluten, vegetable oils, and processed foods from your diet. Eat real, whole foods that come from nature, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, seafood, and healthy fats like avocado, coconut, and ghee. Aim for at least 5 servings of vegetables a day, and try to reduce your added sugar intake.
Drink water! Make sure you are properly hydrated at all times with water, and nix the soda and other sugar sweetened beverages (yes, even the diet or zero calorie or vitamin water crap!)
Cut back on your caffeine intake slowly overtime, as caffeine causes huge spikes and crashes in your energy level and mood.
Work every single day on reducing your stress levels and making your life happier. Try getting a massage, taking a bath, or reading a book to relax, and do something that you genuinely enjoy once a day.
Take a walk out in nature with the sunshine as often as you can to boost your vitamin D and “good mood” hormones.
Get serious about your gut health. No more antibiotics (unless you are in deathly need of them), and get yourself a high-quality probiotic to take every day. Make sure the probiotic is from the refrigerated section of the health foods store or order online. Here’s a link to my favorite brand: Prescript-Assist
Eat more fish, especially salmon, as it provides wonderful sources of zinc and omega-3 fats (and no – I don’t recommend getting these omega-3’s from fish oil. Eat. Real. Food!)
Manage your blood sugar levels by eating three real food meals per day that each contain a source of protein, fat, and carbs.
Get enough sleep and make a bedtime routine a priority in your life every single night.
Journal! Every day when you wake up or before you go to bed, journal about what you are grateful for or the day you have ahead or had. Get your thoughts down on paper and start to recognize the areas in your life where you might be struggling.
Eat enough food! Don’t limit your calories anywhere below 1800 calories. You need nutrients and fuel to survive, especially if you are at all stressed!
Exercise – but not too much. Exercising 3-5 times per week for 45-60 minutes is the perfect amount for general health. But when exercise comes to control your life, mood swings and irregularities are to be expected.
Get your hormone levels checked, especially if you are woman. Even if you appear to be healthy, your thyroid or reproductive hormones could be out of balance.
Although I’ve only brushed the surface of mood swings, I hope that this post will help you understand the cause of your mood disturbances. Like I mentioned above, most of our mood swings can be traced back to either diet, stress, or your gut health. Take the time to recognize when and why you get mood swings. Then, pick a solution or two to start trying to help alleviate your symptoms. Hopefully, you can get to the bottom of your mood swings!
One last note: remember the name of this series: What Is Your Body Trying to Tell You. What is your body trying to tell you from your mood swings? What is out of balance? What needs to be fixed? If you need help getting to the bottom of your issues, I’m here as a health coach to help you get started! Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get an initial health coaching session set up and ready to go!
P.S. Since starting a new job, I'll be posting less often over here on the blog. Instead of three times per week, it's going to drop to once or twice per week. But, the content will still be just as great or even better as I continue to learn more and more about fitness and nutrition.