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Knowing When Your Mood May Be a Symptom

The Difference Between Moods and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders

Emotions are part of being human. Some are positive and some are negative, and they can change depending on what is happening in our lives.

“Everyone experiences sadness, anxiety, grief, unease, irritability and other difficult emotions. When life is difficult and bad things happen, it is normal to feel terrible,” says Northwestern Medicine Psychiatrist Lisa J. Rosenthal, MD. “I like to call this dysphoria, to separate it from psychiatric illness.”

“The vast majority of people are resilient, and we all go through periods where we feel awful,” says Dr. Rosenthal. Some of the factors that contribute to feelings of dysphoria include:

  • Stress
  • Grief
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Family conflict
  • Environmental stressors
  • Work stressors
  • Medical problems
  • Trauma or abuse

Know When to Seek Help

We can all go through periods where we feel down or sad, but that does not mean we have a mental health disorder. You should seek treatment if your symptoms start interfering with your daily life, or if they last for weeks or months.

"Not all negative emotion is a psychiatric illness. Talk therapy can be helpful for anyone who is feeling down or worried.¬† The main differences between dysphoria and a psychiatric illness that requires treatment, such as major depressive disorder, are the severity and duration of symptoms, as well as the impact on functioning and wellbeing. Feeling hopeless, wishing for death, being suicidal or having psychosis can be indicators of an urgent need for treatment.” says Dr. Rosenthal.

Symptoms You Should Seek Treatment for:

  • Feeling worthless or having very low self esteem
  • Wishing for death or suicidal thoughts
  • Not being able to complete your normal activities¬†
  • Not taking care of yourself, including your hygiene
  • Feeling like you cannot enjoy life or the activities you used to enjoy doing
  • Feeling guilty

Manage Your Mood

If you do not have depression or another mental health disorder, but you are experiencing low moods, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Exercise. 30 minutes of exercise three times per week can be effective for mild depressive symptoms.
  • Set realistic expectations. Complete one task at a time. This will help you be clear about what you are trying to achieve, which can help you feel more accomplished. ¬†
  • Communicate. Speaking to someone about what you’re experiencing can help you process how you feel.
  • Make routine changes. Small changes to your routine can improve your mood, such as going to sleep earlier, listening to music or eating a healthy meal.
  • Indulge in your favorite activities. Engage in enjoyable activities that make you feel connected to yourself, other people and places.

It is important to seek help if your mood or emotional health is affecting your daily life. Contact your primary care physician to get the appropriate care.