Adolescents have not yet developed the skills to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and worries of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping strategies that grown-ups have developed. Thus, they are prone to react very emotionally to certain circumstances. Also, adolescents are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming separate from their moms and dads. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t handle the pressure, and this will inevitably lead to a slightly off-balance emotional state. This is one reason behind adolescent mood swings.
Researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through the teenage years much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of 6, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teenage years than previously believed. One of the last areas to go through this change process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. This means that while adolescents have very strong feelings and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these feelings. This is yet another reason for adolescent mood swings.
Adolescence is a time when the body starts producing sex hormones and goes through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that adolescents experience cause them to feel strange, confused or uncomfortable, and this often erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.
Mood swings can leave adolescents feeling like they’re out of control. If the mood swings are severely abnormal or prolonged, the adolescent should see a professional about other possible issues. Normal adolescent mood swings can make the young person feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly.
A teenager’s mood swings may accompany other psychological or cognitive symptoms including:
- Withdrawal or depression
- Confusion or forgetfulness
- Reckless or inappropriate behaviors
- Poor judgment
- Mood depression or elevation
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Anxiety, irritability or agitation
- Alcohol consumption
- Drug use
- Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
- Racing thoughts and rapid speech
- Difficulty with concentration or attention
- Changes in mood, personality or behavior
Mood swings may also accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Sleep disturbances
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Missed menstrual cycles
- Seizures and tremors
- Appetite and weight changes
- Incontinence, weakness, or sensory changes
- Shortness of breath
- Cough that gets more severe over time
Parents should try to get answers to the following questions related to their teen’s mood swings:
- Is your teen using any illicit drugs?
- Does he drink any alcohol?
- Does she have any other psychiatric or medical problems?
- Do he have any other symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression)?
- Does anything make her better or worse?
- What medications is he taking?
- What behavior does she exhibit when she has mood swings (anger, lethargy)?
- When did you first notice your teen’s mood swings?
Here are some tips for dealing with teenage mood swings:
1. Behavioral therapy helps to weaken the connections between troublesome circumstances and habitual reactions to them. Reactions common to mood swings (e.g., fear, anxiety, depression, anger, etc.) can be controlled. Behavioral therapy teaches your adolescent how to calm the mind and body so he can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.
2. Cognitive therapy teaches your adolescent how certain thinking patterns are causing unwanted symptoms (e.g., having a distorted picture of what's going on in her life that makes her feel anxious, depressed or angry for no apparent reason – and provokes her into negative actions). Resolving the cognitive aspect of mood swings can mean improved social interaction, more confidence, and a more positive outlook on life.
3. Communicating with your physician is an important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings. By talking to your physician openly, you allow him to provide your teenager with the best mood swings treatment program possible.
4. Exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration.
5. Literary therapy incorporates articles, books, and other research materials into the process of healing. By gathering information about mood swings, your teen can acquire in-depth knowledge about his problems. This knowledge can provide the essential tools for controlling and resolving his issues. There is a lot of information available from a wide range of perspectives. Many books can be checked out from a local library, and most internet information is presented free of charge.
6. Painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help an adolescent to express his emotions in a healthy way.
7. Regular sleep helps keep the mind in top shape.
8. Stepping back and trying to look at the situation from another angle, counting to ten, or just sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment will help the adolescent to realize that it’s not as bad as it seems.
9. Talk therapy involves the idea of healing through communication. Talking to friends, parents, or a therapist can help your adolescent to find support for dealing with mood swings. Communication comes naturally to people, and the simple act of discussing life’s problems can be extremely helpful in the healing process.
10. Talking to a friend who is dealing with the same issues will make your teen feel less abnormal and help her realize that she is not crazy.
11. The mood may pass as quickly as it struck, so wait before acting out on extreme emotions.
12. There are many non-prescription alternatives on the market today. Some of these alternatives contain supplemental vitamins and minerals, while others contain herbal alternatives that have been used to naturally treat mood swings. Clinical evidence for Kava Kava, Valerian, and St. Johns Wort suggests that these herbal supplements can provide significant benefit in helping to relieve negative mood and other symptoms related to anxiety and depression.
13. Avoid negative sighs when your adolescent is having a hard conversation with you. Don't roll your eyes, look in a different direction or shake your head no.
14. Don't demand that your teen wear a certain outfit.
15. Don't treat your teen like a little kid.
16. If your teen tells you to stop doing something (e.g., singing, whistling, humming, dancing), stop!
17. Learn about what your teen does at school and who he hangs out with (but don't ask questions about who's dating who).
18. Let your adolescent finish her sentences without interruptions. Most adolescents, whether they are moody or not, hate when their mom or dad interrupts because it makes them feel as if you weren't listening to what they had to say.
19. Listen with your heart, be all ears.
20. Never act like your teen’s friend, as in, if you are with her and her friends, don't try to include yourself in her conversations. This won't only bother her, but it will bother her friends.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents