How Can You Tell If You Have a Mood Disorder?

Mood disorders

Most of us experience mood fluctuations and at least occasionally experience irrational mood changes. We may feel excessively happy, excessively sad, or particularly irritable on a given day. But this isn’t the same as having an actual mood disorder.

How can you tell if you have a mood disorder and what should you do about it?

What Is a Mood Disorder?

A mood disorder is a type of mental health disorder that affects your mood, usually spurring feelings of depression, euphoria, or each in different circumstances. There are many different individual disorders within this umbrella, and the same disorder may present differently in different individuals. This makes it hard to precisely and accurately diagnose mood disorders sometimes.

Some of the most common types of mood disorders include:

  •       Depression. During a major depressive episode, people with depression feel extremely sad, lethargic, and (oftentimes) lonely. In extreme cases, depression may prevent a person from being able to engage in everyday activities like socializing, going to work, or even showering.
  •       Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating phases of mania and depression. People with bipolar disorder may go months, or even years without experiencing either, but they routinely struggle with both depressive episodes and manic episodes.
  •       Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with seasonal affective disorder experience depressive symptoms cyclically, often in the winter.
  •       Dysthymia. Dysthymia is a type of long-term, recurring, often mild depression.

There are many methods of treating mood disorders, depending on the specific mood disorder, its symptoms, and the nature of the person presenting those symptoms. Talk therapy, medication, and specific therapeutic techniques may all be relevant.

Mood Disorders vs. Mood Fluctuations

All of us experience sadness. All of us experience euphoria. Nearly all of us experience occasional, rapid mood fluctuations; for example, we might feel a wave of sadness despite our life going relatively well or become very excited about a special event after a period of inactivity.

These mood fluctuations do not constitute a mood disorder. Mood disorders are typically influential enough to have a genuinely negative impact on your life, affecting your work, your relationships, and your overall wellbeing.

If you’re not sure whether you have a mood disorder or just human mood fluctuations, consider the following:

  •       Causes. First, you need to consider the causes of your emotions. When you feel sadness, is it usually because something bad happened to you? Is it because you’re dwelling on some specific problem in your life? Or does it come about unexpectedly, for no reason, and persist for days or weeks at a time? The more mysterious the cause, the more likely the fluctuation is attributable to a mood disorder. However, most of us do experience occasional irrational flare-ups of emotions; a single instance is no grounds for diagnosis.
  •       Severity. Severity must also be considered; there’s a big difference between feeling a bit sad and being so sad you can’t get out of bed. It’s definitely possible to have a mood disorder, even if the severity of your mood changes is mild, but milder mood fluctuations are less likely to have a negative impact on your daily life.
  •       Frequency. How often do you experience mood changes? And how long do these mood changes last? People with mood disorders often experience mood changes very suddenly and unpredictably, and these changes can persist for days, weeks, or even months at a time. Bouncing back and forth between happiness and sadness one random day is not an indication of bipolar disorder.
  •       Control. Emotions are complex phenomena over which we exert some control. Many people can snap themselves out of a bad mood by doing things they love or changing their circumstances, but people with mood disorders find it extremely hard to change their mindsets without external influences.
  •       Impact. Most importantly, you need to consider the impact that these mood fluctuations are having on your life. If your moods prevent you from taking care of yourself, if they impact your work, or if they harm your relationships, it’s advisable to seek treatment.

What Should You Do If You Think You Have a Mood Disorder?

If you think you have a mood disorder, start with the following:

  •       Keep a journal. Do your best to keep a consistent journal and track your emotional changes as they unfold across a span of several weeks, or preferably, months. Obviously, if you feel you need imminent treatment, you can’t afford to spend this time. Otherwise, this is a valuable resource to track how your emotions change, how they impact your life, and whether they require professional help.
  •       Talk to a professional. Talking to a professional, such as a therapist or a doctor, can help you objectively evaluate the severity and impact of your emotional changes – and determine whether they can be considered normal. If you feel the professional didn’t provide you with the attention or care you require, always feel free to get a second opinion.
  •       Take care of yourself. In the meantime, do what you can to take care of yourself. Basic tasks and activities, like regularly exercising, going outside, showering, brushing your teeth, and cleaning your house can have a massively positive impact on your mood and mental health, even if you’re suffering from a chronic mood disorder.

Mood disorders can be very serious, and they deserve to be taken seriously. However, not every mood fluctuation is an indication of a disorder. If you believe your emotions are having a negative impact on your life, it’s important to talk to a professional as soon as possible.