A mood swing is a phenomenon that indicates rapid fluctuation in emotion over a short period. This can look like unpredictability in the change of emotions at slight triggers. You might feel happy and content one minute and shift to unproportionate anger at a slight annoyance in the next minute. Alternatively, mood swings can also span over weeks. You may start feeling downcast for weeks on end without any identifiable cause or reason.
Sometimes, the trigger is identifiable. It may be a stressful encounter at work, disrespect from a child, or something not going your way. Other times, you may be unable to explain why you feel a certain way.
It’s common for people to lose control of their emotions from time to time. Mostly, they are not indicative of a serious health issue. Yet, it can affect your quality of life and that of the people around you. Difficulty in relationships, job instability, and drug and alcohol misuse can be some unpleasant effects of recurrent mood swings.
If they occur frequently, they may indicate an underlying health condition. Mood swings can occur due to many reasons, such as ADHD, addiction, or even pregnancy. However, mood swings are not exclusive to health conditions like ADHD.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed during childhood and may persist in adulthood. Children and adults with ADHD display a characteristically low attention span and are hyperactive.
They also experience being unable to stay focused on a task and having poor time management skills, impulsive decisions, excessive activity and restlessness, talking over people, and low frustration tolerance.
People with ADHD also tend to feel heightened emotions like anger, frustration, or disappointment. Although moodiness isn’t unique to ADHD, poor self-control and impulsivity can cause mood swings, which are common symptoms of ADHD.
Causes of mood swings in ADHD
One of the effects of mental instability is experiencing mood swings. Struggling to pay attention or being unable to perform the way non-ADHD peers do is a common cause of a sudden irritable or frustrated mood. If a person with ADHD is feeling hyperactive, they may feel distracted from the task at hand, unable to focus on the person speaking to them, or may feel like they need to resist the urge to talk over the next person consciously. This can build up a sense of anxiety, leading to irritation.
Alternatively, they can also feel frustrated when someone else interrupts their thought process or something they’re doing or even when they are talking. This can be seen in children with ADHD who have hyperfocus at an aimless activity and start crying if a parent or teacher tries to bring them to an important task at hand.
A heightened sense of emotion also characterizes ADHD. An exciting event or a big win can bring many people a magnified feeling of happiness. In people with ADHD, this can be followed by depressive aftermath as the stimulus is removed and they switch to the other extreme of the emotional spectrum. Identifying such a pattern is important to predict your blues and prepare yourself for the upcoming phase.
Another common cause that can be attributed to ADHD mood swings is medications. Medication has been shown to help with cognitive symptoms like low attention span but not emotional symptoms. Conversely, stimulant medication can wear off after a few hours and cause a few hours of moodiness. However, increased irritability was true only for amphetamine-derived medication, according to a Yale study. Medication-induced mood swings will occur in a time-bound pattern if the patient takes their medication regularly. This would occur mostly in the late afternoon or early evening.
Such symptoms should be noted and reported to the overseeing physician if they need to adjust medication.
Coexisting conditions with ADHD
Some patients with ADHD may also suffer from other disorders that can significantly affect mood patterns.
The most common ones are mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. Mood swings are a hallmark sign of bipolar disorder; patients feel manic and depressed for months. Combined with ADHD, mood swings could seriously be affecting the quality of life of such patients and their loved ones.
Anxiety disorder is also commonly seen hand-in-hand with ADHD and depression. Incessant worry, nervousness, and other symptoms are seen, leading to episodes of sudden onset of a panicked state.
Learning disabilities are also seen in people with ADHD. Children and adults with ADHD may show lower academic performance than their peers. This is exhibited in the ADHD mental age chart for children especially, which shows ADHD children to be three years behind their chronological age in terms of executive functioning and emotional maturity. As you age, the frontal lobe reaches its fully developed stage. Thus, symptoms may dissipate over the years; however, the irritability associated with not performing well or grasping concepts may persist.
How to manage ADHD mood swings?
Most people cope with a range of emotions throughout a week. For people with ADHD, a tough week can be the source of heightened and immense emotions that require solid coping mechanisms. ADHD medication may only have a limited effect on such feelings since they deal with cognitive symptoms instead of the emotional aspect of ADHD. If you feel like your mood swings are overpowering your ability to cope with your emotions, consulting a psychiatrist might be the best option.
However, you can take some measures on your own to deal with ADHD mood swings on a day-to-day basis.
Take advantage of your hyper-focus
People with ADHD have an unregulated attention span, making it difficult for them to focus. Sometimes you may find yourself unable to focus on a task at hand, and rather you see yourself hyper-focused on a mundane side task. Take advantage of this ability and channel your emotions towards an immersive hobby when your mood swings hit.
Staying active and dedicating some time to physical exercise is proven to be effective in releasing endorphins that instantly uplift the mood. Even better, you could engage in high-intensity or competitive sports that would allow you to channel your aggression or mood swings towards a healthy goal.
Bottling up your emotions can be destructive over time. A healthy way to vent is usually finding a friend willing to listen or writing a journal. Journaling helps to take your emotions into account and keep track. Other physical ways to vent can be more creative such as singing or dancing. However, although venting brings your emotions to the forefront, you must also dedicate time to staying calm and grounding yourself to reality. Assisted meditation is helpful in this endeavor.
The bottom line
If you were diagnosed with ADHD as a child, you must have undergone some form of therapy to mitigate the effects of the disorder. Other symptoms may diminish over time but understanding the cause of your symptoms is imperative to developing healthy coping mechanisms.