The mood is an affective state, which differs from emotions and feelings for being less specific, less intense and less likely to be provoked by a recent stimulus or event. Etymologically, the word mood derives from the Old English mōd which denoted military courage but could also refer to a person’s humor, temper, or disposition at a particular time. The cognate Gothic mōds translates both θυμός “mood, spiritedness” and ὀργή “anger”.
Mood can have a positive or negative connotation. In common language, we speak according to the cases of “bad mood”, “humor”, or generally “bad” or “good mood”, to indicate a variety of attitudes that can range from euphoria and enthusiasm to irritability, depression or melancholy.
Mood is a personal disposition of the psyche, capable of determining particular emotional responses/reactions that can be more or less stable: we say we are in a good or bad mood in relation to this or that thing, person or situation.
Changes in mood are therefore physiological, in relation to the events that we face in our daily lives and more generally throughout our lives. The mood then, understood as a changing state of mind, fluctuates from one condition to another, depending on the emotion that prevails at a given time. Sometimes, however, these changes and alterations can result in real mood disorders, which affect the life of those who are subject to them. The mood, therefore, is crucial to the mental and physical well-being of the individual.
The clinical threshold beyond which it is plausible to speak of real mood disorders, both in a depressive sense (in which there is a flattening of the mood downward characterized by a state of dissatisfaction and pessimism), both in a hypomanic or manic sense (opposite state to depression during which the mood is constantly high / euphoric and which is often associated with physical and mental hyperactivity), depends on the number and intensity of symptoms manifested.
A mood disorder occurs when there is impaired functioning in social and occupational settings and/or in the various areas of life that are important to the individual. Social withdrawal, in particular, is an important alarm bell that is often underestimated. Other symptoms to consider include, for example:
- insomnia or hypersomnia;
- fatigability or lack of energy;
- significant weight loss or weight gain;
- marked decrease in interest/pleasure in daily activities;
- agitation or psycho-motor slowdown;
- feelings of self-evaluation or guilt;
- decreased ability to concentrate or indecision;
- an often clinically present symptom is also increased irritability.
These are very common conditions that everyone experiences at least once in their lifetime, which is why it is not always easy to recognize the presence of a mood disorder. However, when thoughts of death and/or suicidal ideation are present, it is essential to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Even when symptoms become persistent or chronic, the common tendency is to minimize the problem or attribute it to external and transitory causes.
Causes of the disorder
All changes require an additional share of psycho-physical energies, which sometimes the person is not ready to mobilize: bereavements and losses, physical or psychological traumas, but also childbirth and motherhood, or obligatory stages of everyone’s life such as adolescence or the transition to adulthood, andropause and menopause. The breaking of a balance requires an effort to compensate.
Sometimes, however, the person is not able to cope alone with the emergency and the alteration of mood, otherwise physiological, becomes chronic disorder.
The chemistry of mood
Mood, its alterations and related pathologies are governed by neurochemistry and neurobiology, areas in which even the slightest variation leads to sensitive differences in terms of needs.
Today, more and more social neuroscience studies the complexity of our brain’s reactions to emotional stimuli, enriching our knowledge of both the physiology and pathophysiology of our emotions. Moreover, neuroscience has increasingly highlighted the crucial role played by mood disorders, often recognized as prodromes of neurodegenerative diseases; in particular, depressive episodes seem to precede the appearance of symptoms of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Therefore, an accurate differential diagnosis may allow to distinguish an episode of psychological distress from a prodromal symptom of neurodegenerative disease.
Finally, particular attention should be paid in elderly people manifesting a depressive disorder, as the latter may present with symptoms of cognitive decline often identified as a condition of “pseudodementia”. In this case it is a condition very different from a true form of dementia, as it is reversible, through the use of a targeted pharmacological treatment.
The acquired knowledge suggests, therefore, that there is not a single medicine, a generic remedy able to curb this type of pathology. Instead, it is appropriate to speak of therapy, to be understood as a multidisciplinary approach modeled on the specific needs of the individual patient, which may include pharmacology or psychotherapy or, even better, a synergistic combination of both.
How to take care of your mood
Changes in mood are a natural response to the challenges of every day: it is not possible to avoid them, not even by shutting ourselves in the house: it is not possible to escape from ourselves, but it is certainly possible to take care of and promote our well-being.
It is possible, through careful observation and some small tricks, to avoid some “high risk” conditions. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t live on the edge: when you are under pressure, you are more likely to experience a strong emotional reaction. Our body is designed to cope with periods of even intense stress, but it always needs to follow up with intervals of rest;
- Avoid mortifying situations, as much as possible, in work as in private life and in the emotional sphere;
- Allow yourself some gratification
- Find solid support factors in your family or relational/affective sphere and don’t be afraid to ask for help.