Your mood swings – what are they telling you?

If we swing from joy to disappointment, then we would do well to master the swing.  Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash


Biologically, your organism is capable of responding with joy and disappointment.  Joy has one set of chemicals marking its presence, and disappointment has another.

Joy can be triggered by several stimuli, but there are a few typical events which are likely to bring it.  The return of familiar friends tends to introduce joy into the body.  Even in animals, we can see symptoms of joy.  The tail wags, movement becomes more pronounced, the body become socially bolder, high-pitched noises are emitted.

Disappointment also has its triggers.  The absence of friendship, or separation, is perhaps one of the most common.  Again, even in animals, we see this.  The tail drops, movement slows and stops, the body retreats socially, the organism becomes silent.


Joy and disappointment can act as cues, to tell us what is right and wrong with our environment.  If we have a prevailing feeling of joy, we might look and see how it is caused by the presence of a helpful environment.   If we have a prevailing feeling of disappointment, we might ask ourselves why, and look around us for what might be draining us of wellbeing.

Furthermore, joy and disappointment, when expressed, are social cues we can give to others.  If we express joy, we are telling our peers that we have detected a source of joy.  If we express disappointment, we are hinting to our companions that something has displeased us, and that we may need help sorting out the problem.


So what are we to make of philosophical calls to balance out joy and disappointment?  Why is it sometimes considered emotionally healthy to have less extreme highs and lows?

It’s a tricky question, and one I struggle with when working with others on their mental wellbeing.  Mood swings are common, but they are particularly common among those who suffer difficulties with mental health.


I try to ask myself the questions: ‘Are these mood swings a reflection of what’s really going on in the client’s environment?’  Often the client themself is somewhat perplexed at their changes of mood, swings from joy to disappointment and back again.  Indeed, some clients are helped by medication, suggesting that, for some, chemical imbalances may influence emotional positioning, and be corrected by chemical rebalancing.

But the relationship between a person and their environment is subtle.  We may not need to experience an external stimulus to shift from joy to disappointment.  Our minds are quite capable of changing our perception of the landscape without the landscape itself changing.  The same circumstances can cause wildly different reactions at different times.

So it would be wrong to assume, too often, that mood swings result from chemical goings-on.  That would be to deny that each of us experiences a philosophical reality of our own, as worthy of recognition as the next person’s.


What is a person to do, then, when they experience unpleasant mood swings?  My sense is that we need to apply a variety of approaches.  Broadly speaking, these divide into three types of treatment:

  1. Healing our environment
  2. Healing our body
  3. Healing our thinking
We heal our environment when we change it so that it brings us health and happiness.  We can change our circumstances, our companions, our job.  If these things are causing us unhappiness, then we can certainly adjust them.We heal our body when we feed it with good nutrition and exercise.  A balanced diet, and regular exercise, are known to reduce ill-health and suffering, mental as well as physical.  Furthermore, bodily healing may occasionally include chemical rebalancing, if a person seems almost lost to depression, anxiety, psychosis, or something else.

We heal our thinking when we educate or train ourselves into more helpful habits of mind.  Meditation, for instance, is a long-established method for accessing self-mastery through our thought patterns.  For instance, we can learn, by repeated practice, to achieve patience, compassion, generosity, gratitude, and peacefulness – all states of mind known to be conducive to good general health.

The philosophical ground on which we stand can help or harm us as much as the physical ground on which we stand.  We owe it to ourselves to rethink life, to become wiser, to find out what kind of thinking makes us healthy.


This last aspect of healing is often neglected.  It is easier to assume that life is a matter of circumstances; or else that good food, exercise and medications will help.  Such things are often bought and sold: a change of scene, healthy eating, a bit of sport, suitable medications… these may be accessible, and can keep us happy.

But it is harder to attend to the thought processes by which we ourselves approach life, to question the assumptions we make, and to learn new, happier habits of mind.  This aspect of mental health – good thinking process – cannot so easily be bought, and requires attention and hard work.  Many people aren’t willing to put the work in.  But the rewards are considerable.

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Biologically, we have developed an ability to show joy and disappointment.  These emotions help us to tell ourselves, and others, whether we are experiencing something good or bad.

These emotions can act as clues for action.  We can choose three main types of action:

  1. Healing our environment
  2. Healing our body
  3. Healing our thinking
The first two types of action are commonly pursued, and are often bought and sold.It is more difficult, and less common, to attend to our own thought processes.


A good counsellor should work with you on your own thought processes.

You can often find that, by giving attention to your own thinking, you can become more emotionally resilient, and mentally healthy.

If you are interested in trying out counselling, you are welcome to make contact.  Phone or online counselling is available.  The first session is always free.