In a Bad Mood?


Been in a bad mood lately? Feeling down in the dumps? Maybe everything in
your life was perfect. Then suddenly you got an unexpected bad grade on a test
and feelings of anxiety, sadness or anger engulfed you like an extreme rogue
wave. Relax. It’s okay. In most cases, you can chalk up the bad mood to being a
normal teenager.

According to Ronald Fieve, MD, psychopharmacologist and professor of
clinical psychiatry at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, teens
have a lot going against them when it comes to their moods. “During
adolescence, teens cope with tremendous change. The adolescent brain pours out
stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones, which, in turn, influence
brain development.”

Along with the influx of raging hormones and body chemistry, teens also have
to deal with both their maturing bodies and their changing environment, says
Dr. Fieve. “Teens undergo bone growth, maturity of the body and sexual
maturity. Adults no longer treat them as kids, even though many teens still
feel like kids. Parents, teachers and employers may expect more out of them,
which only increases the teenager’s stress level.”

Dr. Fieve says that mood is a dominant aspect of life. “When we’re in great
moods, it seems like nothing can go wrong. If something does go wrong, we cope
with it. But what about when our mood goes sour? That’s when nothing can go
right. Even positive events — and people we love — look dark when we’re in an
irritable, sad, or angry mood.”

The Difference between a Bad Mood and a Mood Disorder

In his book, Bipolar II, Dr. Fieve explains that mood disorders are a
large group of psychiatric conditions. Abnormal moods and physical disturbances
— like changes in eating habits, sleep patterns and body motion, either
speeded up or slowed down — dominate the picture.

While being in a bad mood or feeling low from time to time is normal,major depression needs medical treatment. This medical problem is usually
recurrent, with repeated depressive episodes. “With major depression, a
teenager feels in a depressed mood most of the day with little interest in
normal activities,” Fieve says. “The teen might eat too much or too little,
over- or under-sleep, feel fatigued and sluggish, feel hopeless and worthless,
and have other serious symptoms.”

Blame Your Bad Mood on Adolescence

In a study published in March 2007 in Nature Neuroscience,
researchers found that responses to stressful events are exaggerated during the
teenage years. This exaggeration occurs because of a hormone response (called
THP). In adults, THP reduces anxiety, helping the adult calm down after
a stressful event. But in teenagers, the hormone actually increases
. Anxiety and panic disorder, which are twice as likely in girls,
first appear at adolescence. Suicide risk increases during the teenage years,
too, as does the frequency of major depression.

How to Cope with Bad Moods

Parenting experts Margaret Sagarese and Charlene Giannetti come to the
rescue with some practical, self-help tools for coping with teen bad moods.
“Many teens are word-challenged when it comes to naming their moods. So we
advise then to develop a ‘Feelings Dictionary,’ to help them understand their

Sagarese and Gianetti, both parents, suggest making a list of “Up” words and
“Down” words. “Up” words include happy, accepted, peaceful, energetic,
rested and excited. “Down” words include angry, sad, frustrated, afraid,
insecure and embarrassed.

Along with understanding your feelings, the authors suggest walking away
when you are in a nasty confrontation with someone else. “Not all situations
need to result in a confrontation. The teen can simply walk away.”

You should also try to express your feelings in words, Gianetti says. “Even
if you can’t verbalize your feelings to another person, you can write down what
you’re feeling on paper and get rid of the emotion by disposing of the

Another way to cope with bad moods is to avoid people who bring you down,
says Sagarese. “Whether it’s a classmate or a relative, teens can minimize time
spent with people who bring about feelings of sadness, guilt or anger,” she
says. “Once you can understand what you’re truly feeling, you are better
equipped to cope.”

For girls who suffer mood swings with PMS, Sagarese suggests they chart
their menstrual cycles on a calendar and pay particular attention to emotional
highs and lows. “Jot down when you cry at the drop of a hat or shriek at your
Mom when she asks about your homework. Note energy bursts and creative highs,
too. A girl who learns her moods and cycles can make adjustments . . . and

When Should You See a Doctor?

So when should you check with a doctor about bad moods? Dr. Fieve advises
that if you’re so fatigued that you cannot get out of bed and feel “hopeless,
helpless, and worthless” for two weeks, you or your parents should call a
psychiatrist or psychologist and schedule an evaluation for you. If you don’t
know whom to call, your primary care doctor can make a referral for you.

is sometimes necessary to balance moods. Psychotherapy can also
help someone develop appropriate, workable coping skills to deal with everyday
stressors. Often, doctors will recommend both medication and therapy to help a
teen get well.

Perhaps the most important factor in gaining control over bad moods is to
check your lifestyle habits — eat a well-
balanced diet, get plenty of sleep,
exercise daily, and de-stress in healthy ways that work for you. Try to think
positive thoughts and surround yourself with friends who are optimistic and
encouraging. Though you might have an occasional bad mood, chances are good
that you will find your way out of it in time.