Mood swings in adolescents are extremely common, and the best that moms and dads can do is to dig-in their heels and get ready for a few years of turbulence. At one point or another, virtually all adolescents deal with seemingly extreme shifts in mood.
Causes of Mood Swings in Adolescents—
Adolescence is a period of chaos and stress. This period of time will be marked by drama and “frustrated idealism” regardless of environmental factors. Cultural, spiritual, and familial factors play a role in whether or not an adolescent experiences “severe” mood swings. Most researchers agree that mood swings are a combination of biological and emotional factors that affect an adolescent’s mood:
1. Adolescence is a time when the body starts producing sex hormones as well as going through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that adolescents experience cause them to feel strange and perhaps confused or uncomfortable, and this erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.
2. Researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through adolescence much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of six, 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. The grey matter on the outer part of the brain thickens over time with this process peaking at age 11 in females and age 12 in males. After this process is over, the brain begins to trim away excess grey matter that is not used, leaving only the information that the brain needs and making the brain more efficient. One of the last areas to go through this trimming process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, and planning. This means that, while adolescents have very strong emotions and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these emotions.
Teens are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn't caught up with them yet. It's as though they don't have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down. Researchers say this may help explain the often irrational behavior of teens (e.g., mood swings, risk-taking, etc.). Psychologists believe this new understanding of the teenage brain and its limitations can help mothers and fathers recognize there are some behaviors teens can’t easily control. The more educators and the more moms and dads that understand that there is a biological limitation to the teenager’s ability to control and regulate emotion, the more they may be able to be a bit more understanding, and thus avoid taking certain behaviors personally (e.g., an occasional disrespectful attitude).
3. Adolescents are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming entities with lives separate from those of their moms and dads. This can cause confusion or frustration. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t keep up or handle the pressure, and this leads to a slightly off-kilter emotional state.
4. Adolescents have not yet developed the ability to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and anxieties of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping mechanisms that adults have developed to help them deal, so they are prone to react very emotionally to situations.
How Mood Swings Affect Adolescents—
Mood swings can leave an adolescent feel like they’re out of control, which is a very uncomfortable state for anyone to be in. Of course, 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 an adolescent feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly.
Here are some tips for what your adolescent can do when dealing with a mood swing:
• Exercise - exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration.
• Get creative – painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help an adolescent to express their emotions in a healthy way.
• Get plenty of rest – regular sleep helps keep the mind in tip-top shape.
• Realize that they’re not alone – talking to a friend or peer who is dealing with the same issues will make them feel less abnormal and help them realize that they are not crazy.
• Take a breather – 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.
• Wait – the mood may pass as quickly as it struck; wait before acting out on extreme emotions.
Treating Mood Swings—
There are a variety of treatment options available to cope with mood swings. Examine the following list and decide which treatment might work best for you and your teenager:
1. Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapy helps to weaken the connections between troublesome situations and habitual reactions to them. Reactions common to mood swings such as fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and self-damaging behavior can be controlled. Behavioral therapy teaches your adolescent how to calm the mind and body, so they can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.
2. Cognitive Therapy: Cognitive therapy teaches your adolescent how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms — by giving a distorted picture of what's going on in their life, and making them feel anxious, depressed or angry for no apparent reason, or provoking them 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. Literary Therapy: Literary therapy incorporates books, articles, and other research materials into the process of healing. By gathering information about mood swings, one can acquire in-depth knowledge about his or her problems. This knowledge provides the essential tools for controlling and resolving ones issues. There is an extensive amount 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.
4. Non-prescriptive Alternatives: 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 medicate mood swings. Clinical evidence for Valerian, Kava Kava and St. Johns Wort suggests that these herbal constituents can provide significant benefit in helping to relieve negative mood and other symptoms related to anxiety and depression.
5. Talk Therapy: Talk therapy involves the idea of healing through communication. Talking to friends, family members, or a therapist can help your adolescent to find support for those dealing with mood swings. Communication comes naturally to humans, and the simple act of discussing one’s problems can be extremely helpful in the healing process.
6. Talking to the Medical professional about Mood Swings: An important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings is communicating with your medical professional is. By talking to your medical professional openly, you allow him/her to provide your teenager with the best treatment program possible. It is extremely important that you maintain open communication with your medical professional. He/she can help you to understand your symptoms and treatment options. The first step is to find a medical professional or that's right for you. Once you have started a treatment plan, it is important for you to provide your medical professional with updates about how you are feeling. Sometimes it is difficult to remember all of the points you want to discuss in your visit.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents