How to Cope With Pandemic Mood Swings
You woke up in a funk, were on cloud nine after a stellar presentation, then snapped at co-workers when your internet cut out during the team video chat. Come dinnertime, you’re a puddle of tears.
“Fluctuations in mood — sadness, elation, anger, fear, relief — are common and are also normal,” says Dr. Samidha Tripathi, a UW Medicine psychiatrist.
While mood swings can happen at any time, they’ve become especially prevalent for many people during the pandemic.
Luckily, there are ways to stop the emotional roller coaster and help yourself feel a bit steadier.
What causes mood swings?
A variety of factors lead to mood swings, Tripathi notes.
A change in your environment, your life circumstances and the seasons (think winter blues) can all affect how you feel. Even your circadian rhythm can cause shifts in mood, giving you a rush of energy and excitement in the morning and leaving you sluggish and grumpy by noon.
With change being a common denominator of mood fluctuations, it’s no wonder the pandemic has caused so many of us to experience emotional whiplash.
“Dramatically altered personal and work routines, loss of employment or financial stress, child care issues, fear and worry about our own health and the health of our loved ones, and the constant flow of information from news and social media have further stretched our ability to cope,” Tripathi says.
She also notes weathering the pandemic can be particularly difficult for those with pre-existing mental health conditions, who may be more apt to experience mood swings.
Do supplements help with mood swings?
A quick internet search provides a laundry list of supplements that are claimed to reduce mood swings, but do any of these actually work?
The short answer: it's unlikely.
While some studies have found connections between dietary supplements and improved mood, the results are controversial and more research is needed before we will know for sure whether these supplements reduce the risk of depression or anxiety, Tripathi says.
Similarly, low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression, but it’s unclear whether a lack of vitamin D causes depression, if depression causes low vitamin D or if they are co-occurring factors. (In other words, the scientific jury is still out on whether vitamin D supplements decrease depression.)
If you are considering taking a supplement, be sure to discuss it with your doctor beforehand so they can monitor your dosage and any side effects. And if you’re unsure, it’s best to go back to the basics.
“Overall, physical activity along with a well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, protein, carbs and a healthy source of fat like nuts will have a positive impact on your health and mood,” Tripathi says.
How can you cope with pandemic mood swings?
“These are unprecedented times,” Tripathi says. “We might need to take a broader look at our emotional environment to prevent a buildup of mental stress.”
Here are some ways to do just that.
When you’re feeling good, make a list of activities that help you center yourself, like calling a friend, drinking a glass of water or taking some deep breaths.
In the moments when you’re angry or distressed, you can turn to the list for an activity to help you calm down.
Cut back on caffeine
Your morning pick-me-up might be coming with a side of jitters, anxiousness and inability to fall sleep — all of which can lead to worsened mood.
If you’re having trouble sleeping or feel anxious from too much caffeine, gradually reduce your daily intake. This way you’ll be able to cut back without experiencing withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue or irritability.
Take some “me time”
With everyone cooped up inside, it can be difficult to get some time to yourself. But doing so can give you a chance to check in with your emotions and feel more balanced.
Try to schedule some alone time in your day, whether it’s some peaceful moments after you first wake up or a quick walk during your lunch break.
Reframe your mindset
“Feeling confined can make us lose our sense of perspective,” Tripathi says.
Instead of focusing on the ways you feel restricted, try to acknowledge what you are able to do, whether it’s cook with your family, go on a hike or try out a hobby at home.
When you start feeling yourself get upset or angry, it can also help to pause and take a breath, which can allow you the space to let go of small irritations that pop up throughout the day.
Practice healthy habits
Work toward building healthy habits into your routine, like eating a well-balanced diet, exercising and practicing good sleep hygiene.
Tripathi also recommends writing down your feelings to help you process your various emotions throughout the day.
When to seek medical help for mood swings
Despite these coping tips, you may find the highs and lows are interfering with your ability to function throughout the day. If that’s the case, it might be time to talk to your doctor.
Other signs to look out for include a disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, trouble concentrating and sleeping, increased irritability and thoughts of self-harm.
“Remember that though this pandemic seems like an eternity, nothing lasts forever,” Tripathi says. “We will get past this crisis.”
The info in this article is accurate as of the publishing date. While Right as Rain strives to keep our stories as current as possible, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. It’s possible some things have changed since publication. We encourage you to stay informed by checking out your local health department resources, like Public Health Seattle King County or Washington State Department of Health.