Been in a bad mood lately? Feeling down in the dumps? Maybe everything in your life was perfect. Then suddenly you got an unexpected bad grade on a test and feelings of anxiety, sadness or anger engulfed you like an extreme rogue wave. Relax. It's okay. In most cases, you can chalk up the bad mood to being a normal teenager.
According to Ronald Fieve, MD, psychopharmacologist and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, teens have a lot going against them when it comes to their moods. "During adolescence, teens cope with tremendous change. The adolescent brain pours out stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones, which, in turn, influence brain development."
Along with the influx of raging hormones and body chemistry, teens also have to deal with both their maturing bodies and their changing environment, says Dr. Fieve. "Teens undergo bone growth, maturity of the body and sexual maturity. Adults no longer treat them as kids, even though many teens still feel like kids. Parents, teachers and employers may expect more out of them, which only increases the teenager's stress level."
Dr. Fieve says that mood is a dominant aspect of life. "When we're in great moods, it seems like nothing can go wrong. If something does go wrong, we cope with it. But what about when our mood goes sour? That's when nothing can go right. Even positive events -- and people we love -- look dark when we're in an irritable, sad, or angry mood."
The Difference between a Bad Mood and a Mood Disorder
In his book, Bipolar II, Dr. Fieve explains that mood disorders are a large group of psychiatric conditions. Abnormal moods and physical disturbances -- like changes in eating habits, sleep patterns and body motion, either speeded up or slowed down -- dominate the picture.
While being in a bad mood or feeling low from time to time is normal,major depression needs medical treatment. This medical problem is usually recurrent, with repeated depressive episodes. "With major depression, a teenager feels in a depressed mood most of the day with little interest in normal activities," Fieve says. "The teen might eat too much or too little, over- or under-sleep, feel fatigued and sluggish, feel hopeless and worthless, and have other serious symptoms."
Blame Your Bad Mood on Adolescence
In a study published in March 2007 in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that responses to stressful events are exaggerated during the teenage years. This exaggeration occurs because of a hormone response (called THP). In adults, THP reduces anxiety, helping the adult calm down after a stressful event. But in teenagers, the hormone actually increases anxiety. Anxiety and panic disorder, which are twice as likely in girls, first appear at adolescence. Suicide risk increases during the teenage years, too, as does the frequency of major depression.
How to Cope with Bad Moods
Parenting experts Margaret Sagarese and Charlene Giannetti come to the rescue with some practical, self-help tools for coping with teen bad moods. "Many teens are word-challenged when it comes to naming their moods. So we advise then to develop a 'Feelings Dictionary,' to help them understand their emotions."
Sagarese and Gianetti, both parents, suggest making a list of "Up" words and "Down" words. "Up" words include happy, accepted, peaceful, energetic, rested and excited. "Down" words include angry, sad, frustrated, afraid, insecure and embarrassed.
Along with understanding your feelings, the authors suggest walking away when you are in a nasty confrontation with someone else. "Not all situations need to result in a confrontation. The teen can simply walk away."
You should also try to express your feelings in words, Gianetti says. "Even if you can't verbalize your feelings to another person, you can write down what you're feeling on paper and get rid of the emotion by disposing of the paper."
Another way to cope with bad moods is to avoid people who bring you down, says Sagarese. "Whether it's a classmate or a relative, teens can minimize time spent with people who bring about feelings of sadness, guilt or anger," she says. "Once you can understand what you're truly feeling, you are better equipped to cope."
For girls who suffer mood swings with PMS, Sagarese suggests they chart their menstrual cycles on a calendar and pay particular attention to emotional highs and lows. "Jot down when you cry at the drop of a hat or shriek at your Mom when she asks about your homework. Note energy bursts and creative highs, too. A girl who learns her moods and cycles can make adjustments . . . and apologies."
When Should You See a Doctor?
So when should you check with a doctor about bad moods? Dr. Fieve advises that if you're so fatigued that you cannot get out of bed and feel "hopeless, helpless, and worthless" for two weeks, you or your parents should call a psychiatrist or psychologist and schedule an evaluation for you. If you don't know whom to call, your primary care doctor can make a referral for you.
Medication is sometimes necessary to balance moods. Psychotherapy can also help someone develop appropriate, workable coping skills to deal with everyday stressors. Often, doctors will recommend both medication and therapy to help a teen get well.
Perhaps the most important factor in gaining control over bad moods is to check your lifestyle habits -- eat a well-balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise daily, and de-stress in healthy ways that work for you. Try to think positive thoughts and surround yourself with friends who are optimistic and encouraging. Though you might have an occasional bad mood, chances are good that you will find your way out of it in time.