Self

Moodier Than Ever? Experts Blame Pandemic Stress

Plus, how to bring your moods back to center.

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If you're the kind of person whose mood is generally pretty chill, it might be jarring to find yourself swinging from hot to cold multiple times a day during quarantine. When you feel like a constant pendulum between "everything will be great" and "everything is hopeless," you might be asking why you keep having mood swings.

"If we consider how much life has changed since the beginning of the year, it makes perfect sense that many people are feeling everything much more intensely," says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. "Between COVID, quarantine, and isolation, mainstream media bringing more light back to well-known issues such as police brutality and racism, all combined into what feels like a small amount of time and an eternity, has magnified pre-existing symptoms or conditions." All of that, she tells Bustle, has happened in the context of dramatically altered personal and work routines, as well as a sudden but extended lack of IRL social support.

Why Am I Having So Many Mood Swings During The Pandemic?

"Prior to 2020, most people already had some form of stress, anxiety, depression, or other underlying 'stuff' that was being put to the wayside due to day-to-day responsibilities such as work or school," she says. During quarantine, however, shoving aside your mental health with distractions isn't as much of an option. You can't exactly go out on the town to unwind from a long workday — one that's conducted from the same couch you're supposed to relax on. When all of this happens, Morales explains, "the mind and body go into protector mode, and you find yourself having mood swings."

You might have no other choice than to grapple with your mental health during the isolation of quarantine, Morales says, and that can easily spill over into unpredictable moods. "When we don’t know how to manage that stress and anxiety, we can feel 'bottled up' in our emotions, leading to mood swings," says Katara McCarty, a life coach and founder of the app EXHALE, which provides emotional well-being resources for Black, indigenous, and other women of color (BIWOC).

The stress and trauma of continued racist killings also might be contributing to your mood swings, McCarty says. "The Black community is explicitly triggered when seeing these killings because we know that this happens regularly in our community," she tells Bustle. "Weaving through life in Black and brown bodies, we face systems of oppression every day, leading to stress and anxiety." That constant grief can definitely explode itself into mood swings when that all that grief feels like it has nowhere to go.

When you're constantly oscillating between "I'm invincible" and "nothing is worth doing," Morales says that it's your mind's way of telling you, "we are having a tough time and need to let you know."

How Do I Know If I'm Having Mood Swings?

Mood swings — AKA, a change in someone's mood that's both noticeable and pretty immediate – are common symptoms of personality or mood disorders like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. But if the pandemic is your first time experiencing them, you might not be sure what's going on. "Mood swings can present in various ways — whether it is subtle or extreme depends on the person," Morales tells Bustle. "Check in with yourself and be curious. Notice if you're feeling less interested in activities, increased irritability, sleep issues, trouble concentrating, and even more intensely if you're having suicidal thoughts or wanting to harm yourself."

The key to tracking your mood swings is looking for moments when your entire outlook changes for no apparent reason, or because of something that seems small. You get red-in-the-face-angry that your microwave won't stop beeping to remind you your coffee's hot, while getting your groceries delivered feels like the greatest thing that's ever happened to you. If the thing itself might appear insignificant, McCarty says your big reaction may feel out of sync. Still, it's understandable, and not necessarily a sign of something to be worried about. "We are in unprecedented times right now, so be patient with yourself."

What Should I Do If I'm Having Mood Swings?

If you're suddenly a ball of rage, but a moment ago you were a ray of sunshine, you might want to ask what you needs to feel comforted. "Check-in with yourself by asking what you need or want in this moment, and then give yourself permission to meet that need, whether it’s a nap or your favorite snack," McCarty advises.

You might want to catalog the things that tend to make you feel more emotionally stable, and keep easily accessed reminders for when you switch into angst mode. Sometimes, what you need may be immediate — a glass of cold water or shower, or maybe some food if the pandemic has thrown off your eating habits. Sometimes it's a phone call with your BFF in another time zone, or 30 minutes on TikTok after work.

Morales says that you also might need to take a broader look at your emotional environment to prevent a buildup of mental stress. "This can be something as simple as taking more mental wellness breaks, setting clear boundaries, talking to people you feel emotionally safe with, and even considering if you might need some extra support from a mental health professional."

Once you notice your mood has become a pendulum, you can step back from the situation and take care of yourself. "I will pause from what I’m doing, excuse myself from where I am, and be alone," McCarty says, of her own coping techniques. "Getting some fresh air or even using some breathing techniques to get grounded and centered can help." You might also want to make sure you're moving your body regularly (whether that's at-home exercise, walks outside, or both), and safely connect with family and friends that make you feel affirmed and validated.

"You deserve to have a safe space that you can feel seen, heard, and accepted in," Morales says. Carving out space for yourself and your emotions — no matter how sudden or big they are — can give you smoother mood sailing as you move forward.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Experts:

Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist

Katara McCarty, life coach, founder of EXHALE