Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

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Having mood swings? You’re not alone – here’s how to deal with them

Irrational bouts of anger or sadness are completely normal in the current circumstances say mental health professionals

Anger is a common after-effect of distress.
Anger is a common after-effect of distress.

Like most people preparing for days turning into weeks of isolation, I started the stay-at-home period with a set of goals.

I would take on all of the things I’ve always wanted to try but never had time for – yoga, cooking, binge watching classics. Four weeks in, and I was still feeling optimistic and well-settled, satisfied with the fact that I wasn’t letting the situation get to me.

Then one grey morning, I woke up to find my laptop cable not working – and emotions I didn’t know I was capable of burst forth.

I felt on top of the world one moment, and down in the dumps the next: is that normal?

Dr Vedrana Mladina, clinical psychologist and wellness counsellor at NYUAD says that it’s not just normal given current circumstances – but that we actively need to “allow for it”.

“Feelings are important indicators and mirrors of what is happening around us and inside us. In extreme situations, we tend to experience extreme feelings,” she says.

If you feel like you’ve been having bursts of irrational emotions, you aren’t alone.

Fuelled by my own outbreak, I took to posting on social media asking if any friends or family were experiencing the same. I may not be a social media star, but of the 60 plus people who responded to the poll, 96 per cent voted “yes”. That's pretty telling.

So how can people best deal with mood swings?

The first step is to understand exactly what they are. As Mladina specifies, “it is a sudden and extreme change in mood in a short period of time without an obvious trigger.”

Prateeksha Shetty, clinical psychologist at RAK hospital, names some obvious or not-so-obvious triggers that precede these incidents. “It could be worries about daily plans or living, concerns about stability or uncertainty, or anxiety over a past trauma. The shift in mood is often followed by brooding or some attempt at problem solving.”

Sound familiar? Mladina adds that mood swings are increasingly common now that people are more aware of their feelings, given the lack of distractions.

“We are also trying to manage unusual amounts of global uncertainty on a daily basis and that causes increased emotional disregulation that leads to mood swings,” she adds.

Three ways to help keep mood swings under control

Track your emotions: If you feel like your emotions are getting the best of you, the first thing to do is identify them.

“Today, there are phone applications that help you track your mood. Or, if one is more traditional, keep a thought diary for a trigger-mood-rating on a daily basis,” says Shetty. “Being more self-aware helps you become more mindful, and reflect on things that are really bothering you.”

But don’t dismiss your feelings – let them pass through you and try to find your way back to the calm

Finding coping mechanisms: Every person deals with mood swings differently, so Shetty recommends finding what works best for you personally.

It could be finding a distraction, engaging in a productive activity (like cooking or exercise), reaching out to share your experiences with friends or family, or even “self-talk” to challenge irrational thoughts. “Questioning the validity or rationality of one’s thoughts can help put things into perspective,” she says.

Embracing the emotions: It is important not to berate yourself or be hard on yourself for having irrational emotions. “Notice and name the feelings, and allow them to be there,” says Mladina. “Take short mindful breaks and focus on paced breathing, re-instating calm to restore emotional. But don’t dismiss your feelings – let them pass through you and try to find your way back to the calm.”

Updated: April 23, 2020 05:09 PM

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