Mood changes are a natural part of everybody’s emotional rhythm. Sometimes we can be feeling on top of the world, and the next day down in the dumps for no apparent reason. This page is not about major depressive episodes, which are far more severe and can have major impact on your life, but is rather a brief guide about the possible causes of these mood changes and how to get through them.
Everyone is familiar with the symptoms of depression – we all have days when we feel ‘down’. People tend to have ‘cycles’ even during the day, with some times being better than others. However, most of the time this only lasts for a few days or less, we are able to be cheered up and can still function in our everyday lives.
Mood and emotion is an incredibly complex area of medicine, which is a result of interactions between biological, psychological and environmental factors. It is believed that the interaction between these factors can result in abnormal functioning in the areas of the brain responsible for mood and thought, which can lead to you feeling a little slower on days when your mood is bad.
- Biological: genetic predisposition, hormones (chemical messengers telling your body how to act) and changes in brain chemicals.
- Psychological factors: personality, life experiences and learned responses.
- Environmental factors: negative events, illness, emotional stress.
Usually, no treatment is required for low mood as it sorts itself out quite quickly and you can return to normal life with little problem. If you find yourself having a low mood quite frequently, but not to the level classified as being major depression, then you may like to try some form of non-drug therapy. Some people may like to engage in some form of counselling or therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) where you can look at some of the ways in which you perceive events that happen, and try to find the logical errors in these thoughts that can lead to low mood. It has been shown that this therapy actually changes your brain in much the same way as antidepressant medications. There are also other forms of counselling and psychological treatment available if you think that this may help you, but you should discuss this with your GP so that they can work out what type is best for you. There is another form of therapy known as ‘mindfulness‘ that may be useful in cases of low mood. Mindfulness can be thought of as a bit of ‘time out’ for your mind, as you let it wander and act as an observer over your own thoughts. It can be a useful means of dealing with anxiety and low mood.
Studies have found St John’s Wort to be effective in mild to moderate depression and low mood, and so may help if you are feeling low. This actually works in the same way as pharmaceutical antidepressants, but on a milder scale. However, St John’s Wort is known to react with many prescription medications including warfarin, antidepressants and the oral contraceptive pill and so it is important that patients inform their doctor if they are taking any complementary medications.
If you are simply feeling a little low then it is very unlikely that you will require treatment with any prescription medications. This is because you will most likely just recover on your own without help, and medication should only ever be given when absolutely required. It should be pointed out that if you are feeling low frequently, then there are some symptoms that you may look out for that indicate this is possibly a more severe depression and not just a low mood. Some of these symptoms are:
- Not feeling your usual self
- Not able to be lifted out of your low mood by yourself or others
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in favourite activities
- Disturbed sleep patterns – problems getting off to sleep or waking early
- Feelings of guilt/burden/blame
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Loss of motivation, unable to start or complete jobs
- Having low energy, fatigue.
- Loss of or increase in appetite, with weight loss or gain
- Loss of sexual interest
- Anxiety or panic attacks.
If you think you may be suffering from a more severe depression then you should talk to your doctor immediately as they will be able to offer you professional and individual help.
- Fancher T, Kravitz R. ‘In the clinic: Depression’. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2007. 146(9).
- Lawvere S. Mahoney MC. ‘St. John’s wort’. American Family Physician. 2005. 72(11):2249-54.
- Sadock B, Sadock V. Pocket Handbook of Clinical Psychiatry (Fourth Ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: Philidelphia, 2005.
- Sutherland J, Sutherland S, Hoehns J.’ Acheiving the best outcome in treatment of depression’ Journal of Family Practice. 2003. 52(3).