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Is It Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Your Hormones or Something More?

Have you noticed changes in your mood? Maybe you’re more irritable than usual, or perhaps you’ve been hit with sudden waves of sadness. Either way, mood swings can be frustrating especially when you’re unsure what’s causing them. Anything from weather to hormonal changes can influence your emotions and well-being. This article reviews what mood swings are, their potential causes and tips for managing symptoms.

What Are Mood Swings?

Mood swings are characterized by quick, intense emotional changes. You might go from feeling content and satisfied to annoyed, angry and sad without any discernible reason. Here are a few key signs you’re experiencing mood swings.

  • You experience negative emotions for more than two weeks.
  • You switch from positive to negative emotions quickly.
  • You’re unable to explain your emotions.

Not only do mood swings affect emotional state, they impact behavior. For example, if you’re feeling depressed or frustrated, you might become less motivated and more withdrawn (which can harm your work ethic and relationships). The good news is, there are ways to manage mood symptoms. First, however, you need to identify their cause.

What Causes Mood Changes?

While anyone can experience sudden mood changes, they’re especially common in women. Some top reasons behind them include seasonal affective disorder and hormonal changes.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

One potential cause of mood swings is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Unlike major depression, which people can experience year-round, SAD is connected to seasonal weather changes. In most cases, SAD symptoms start during the fall and winter and continue until spring. Less commonly, symptoms arise during spring and last until winter.

In the United States alone, SAD affects 10 million people. Women are vulnerable to SAD and four times more likely to have it than men are. Symptoms of SAD include the following.

  • Sadness that persists for days or weeks
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating and sleeping
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Junk food cravings
  • Hopeless or suicidal thoughts

Because symptoms are linked to the weather, many people wave SAD off as a case of “winter blues.” In reality, SAD is a serious form of depression that can negatively impact both physical and emotional well-being. If you suspect you have SAD, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor and receive an official diagnosis.

During the appointment, your doctor may ask about your medical history and symptoms. Ultimately, doctors can help you determine whether your mood changes are due to SAD, another form of depression or something else entirely.

Hormonal Changes

As you may know, monthly menstruation cycles can cause hormonal changes that affect mood. It’s estimated that 75% of women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) at some point. Generally, these symptoms begin five days before menstruation and resolve within four days after the cycle starts.

Another cause of hormonal changes is menopause. Most women go through menopause, which is defined as 12 consecutive months without a period, between 45 and 55 years of age. However, women may start to experience symptoms up to a decade before menopause starts. This stage, known as perimenopause, is associated with a decrease in estrogen. This hormonal change may result in the following emotional and physical symptoms.


  • Mood changes (including increased irritability and aggression)
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased stress levels


  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flashes (sudden feelings of warmth)
  • Urge to urinate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Night sweats
  • Hair loss

Most women self-diagnose menopause based on their age and symptoms. However, there may be situations where you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing menopause. For example, you might have very vague symptoms, or you might be younger than 40 (about 1% of women experience menopause in their 30s).

In these cases, you can get an official diagnosis by receiving blood and urine tests that measure your hormones. No matter what age you begin symptoms, they will usually stop once you officially go 12 months without your period.


It’s no secret that lifestyle habits influence health, but they can also trigger mood swings. If you’re noticing changes in your emotional state, these factors could be behind the changes.

  • Poor diet
  • Sleep schedule
  • Stress

Your diet triggers chemical and physiological effects, which in turn impact mood and behavior. For example, refined carbohydrates such as white bread and baked goods make blood sugar levels increase and decrease quickly, which leads to fatigue and irritability. Meanwhile, healthy nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B and zinc, are linked with positive mood and high energy.

Another factor that impacts mood is sleep schedule. A lack of sleep is associated with higher levels of stress, frustration and sadness. In general, adults need between seven to eight hours of sleep to meet their physical and emotional needs.

Finally, stress can trigger negative emotions as well as physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and nausea. Stress may be caused by anything, including relationship problems, difficulties at work or concerns over an upcoming event.

How Do I Manage Mood Changes?

From SAD and lifestyle habits to menstruation and menopause, there are several possible causes of mood swings. These different causes can coincide, too. For instance, you could experience menopause-related hormonal changes while also going through SAD. Regardless of the cause, mood swings are difficult to deal with. Fortunately, symptoms can be managed with treatment. Here are some top strategies for dealing with mood changes.

Lifestyle Changes

Making minor lifestyle adjustments can go a long way when it comes to improving mood, behavior and overall health. Suggestions include these.

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep

In addition to following these tips, make sure you’re coping well with stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes several methods for stress relief, including meditating, relaxing and avoiding alcohol or drugs.


If you’re experiencing serious depression symptoms, including a lack of motivation, persistent sadness or suicidal thoughts, psychotherapy can help. During therapy sessions, patients work with mental health professionals to identify the reasons behind depression and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. The ultimate goal is to help depressed patients handle their emotions and regain control of their lives.

Whether depression is the result of SAD or a side effect of menopause, psychotherapy has proven results. Approximately 75% of people who begin psychotherapy find it to be helpful.


Along with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy, many people with mood swings rely on medication (when advised by a doctor). The medication type depends on the condition. For example, SAD patients may be prescribed antidepressants. This class of medications, which affects brain chemistry, has improved mood in 40% to 60% of patients.

Women going through menopause, on the other hand, may manage symptoms through hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This solution, which typically consists of estrogen and progesterone, is available through the following means.

  • Pills
  • Injections
  • Patches/gels
  • Creams/rings (for vaginal symptoms)

By balancing the hormonal changes caused by menopause, this therapy can lessen mood and behavioral effects, improve physical symptoms and even reduce the risk of endometrial or uterine cancer.

Hormonally Balanced: Contact Us for Hormone Replacement Therapy Today

Are you noticing emotional changes as you progress through your 40s and 50s? If so, you may be experiencing menopause. This process can trigger hot flashes, vaginal dryness and intense mood changes, including increased depression and anxiety. To help manage symptoms, more and more women are turning toward HRT.

At Hormonally Balanced, we offer an all-female team dedicated to helping you get through menopause as comfortably as possible. If you’d like to learn more about our hormone replacement therapy, contact us today. We’re happy to walk you through the process, explain treatment options and help you determine if you’re a good candidate.

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