I’ve repeatedly alluded to the importance of recognizing the signs that your mood is shifting early on. While there are plenty of tip-offs in our thinking, our bodies play a role, too. Once you start paying attention, you’ll start being able to see physical signs that your mood is about to change before it happens. That gives you a chance to start taking steps to protect yourself and others from your messed up mental state before it happens. You may even be able to minimize the duration and intensity of your mental symptoms if you catch them right away.
Common wisdom tells us that mood disorders are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. That has led to treatments which are focused on correcting those imbalances. Medications of this sort can be life-savers, but it seems to me that they are treating the symptom, not the cause. Now, researchers are starting to get a glimpse of the processes in the body which lead to those imbalances in the first place.
There are a variety of physical contributors to our mental symptoms. Many of them have physical symptoms as well. It makes sense that as these conditions flare, we may get physical symptoms before the mental ones or vice versa. Just scratching the surface on the tip of this iceberg, I’ll list a few, in general terms.
Methylation is an important process in the body which has a profound effect on mental health and which can be influenced by a genetic mutation known as MTHFR. But that’s not the only one. Genetic mutations known as SNPs contribute to neurological inflammation, causing symptoms such as autism.
When the small intestine is damaged by problems such as celiac disease or SIBO, it stops producing the enzymes needed to digest many foods. It also loses some of its ability to absorb nutrients from the foods that pass through it. On top of this, bacterial overgrowths can actually steal things we need, like iron. They can also break down vitamins such as B12! So it would make sense that symptoms of malabsorption such as anemia could foretell oncoming depression.
When the junctures between the cells lining the small intestine loosen, partially digested molecules of food can make it to the blood stream. In the case of gluten (the proteins found in grains) and casein (the protein found in dairy), they can form opiates which then cross the blood-brain barrier and affect your mood. Beyond this, a leaky gut also can contribute to systemic symptoms such as autoimmunity which can affect any part of the body. Arthritis, neurological autoimmunity, Hashimoto’s thyroidosis, type 1 diabetes, allergies, and other conditions can all flare up thanks to leaky gut.
The gut is connected to the brain though an extensive neural network called the enteric nervous system. So much so, that it has been dubbed the “second brain.” It now appears that this system contributes to our mood as well, though I don’t understand the mechanism.
Neurotransmitter Production and Uptake
Serotonin is perhaps the best known neurotransmitter for its role in depression. What most people don’t know is that it’s main function in the body is to regulate intestinal movements! Is it any wonder that SSRI drugs have gut-related side effects? Serotonin also affects the heart, bone density, social behavior, and more. And it’s not the only neurotransmitter we rely on. Endorphins are a class of neurotransmitters which can actually eliminate pain. When the gut is damaged, we can end up deficient in the precursors that we need to produce these neurotransmitters.
Hormones are produced by the endocrine system, which includes the adrenals, pituitary, thymus, thyroid, pancreas, testes, and ovaries. Autoimmune thyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s Thyroidosis, Grave’s Disease, and type 1 diabetes, issues such as PCOS, and other fluctuations of reproductive steroids and other imbalances can cause both physical and emotional symptoms. Imbalances can be caused by diet, exposure to pseudoestrogens, tumors in the body, and medications can all contribute to abnormal hormone regulation as well.
Early Physical & Behavioral Signs
Any of these symptoms of the diseases above or listed below (and others) could go with any type of change in mental state, from depression, mania, or anxiety to a flare up of dyslexia. All the signs I’m sharing are anecdotal, based on my experiences and what others have told me about their lives. Pay attention to your body and you’ll discover some of your own patterns!
- A quiet body – I tend to be in some kind of constant motion. But as I head into a depressed state, I don’t fidget at all any more. When my toes stop wiggling, my wife & I know I’m heading downhill.
- Sighing more frequently.
- Crying – Crying more easily, because of minor things that don’t even upset you, or for no reason at all.
- Slowness – Moving slower than normal, thinking slower than normal.
- Headaches – Migraines or other headaches.
- Appetite changes – Not noticing feelings of hunger, not feeling hungry, eating everything that’s not nailed down, or craving foods.
- Fatigue – Feeling a lack of energy or inability to carry out as many tasks as usual.
- Changes in sleep pattern – Not falling asleep, waking in the night, sleeping much more than usual, or at different hours than usual.
- Feeling like you’re getting sick – The feeling that you are fighting a virus, swollen lymph nodes, under the weather feeling, nausea.
- Dropping responsibilities – Putting things off so as not to have to deal with them, or because you are disoriented and forgot. Avoiding commitments because of feelings of illness that never actually result in sickness. Getting hyper-focused on something and forgetting about something you had planned.
- Getting lost – Making wrong turns, not recognizing where you are, forgetting where you are going.
- Increased pain sensitivity or actual pain – Flare-ups of fibromyalgia, muscle pain, joint pain, or other pain.
- Forgetting to do things that keep you stable – Forgetting to take/do medications, supplements, regimens, schedules, and dietary plans.
- Impulsive self-harm – Taking action like suddenly hitting yourself, cutting, or banging your head.
- Increased food sensitivities and allergies – Reacting more severely to foods such as dairy, or allergens such as dander.
- Visual changes – Blurry vision, difficulty processing visual information quickly.
- Pressured talking – Talking very fast, louder than usual, and/or with urgency.
- Wakefulness – Staying awake rather than sleeping, feeling rested even without sleep.
- Increased stamina – Being able to work out longer and harder than usual, hyperfocusing on projects or tasks.
- Increased tolerance for pain and discomfort – Not noticing pain. Even injuries do not cause the expected level of pain.
- Increased sex drive – Becoming sexually aroused very easily, feeling sexy, wanting and having more (and more varied) sex than usual.
- Shallow breathing – Fast, shallow breaths, which can lead to hyperventilation.
- Fidgeting – Tapping pencils, feet, wiggling, changing position frequently. Constant motion.
- Moving quickly – Not taking extra time with anything, moving as if in fast-forward. Walking quickly, making quick gestures.
- Upset stomach – This may affect appetite.
- Insomnia – Especially difficulty falling asleep and nightmares.
- Diarrhea – Urgency, especially when thinking about an upcoming situation.
- Increased sensory integration issues – Being more sensitive to sounds, heat, cold, tags in clothing, etc.
- Shakiness – Tremors.
- Stuttering – Being unable to get words out; losing speech; verbal aphasia (saying words you didn’t mean to say without knowing it),
What to Do When you Notice the Signs?
Letting your family, friends, therapist, psychiatrist, and/or family doctor in on your upcoming mood swing can help them be more understanding and can help you cope.
Take action to counter your mood swing
Can’t fall asleep? Go to bed on time. Forgetting to eat? Set a timer to remind you, and make sure there are easy foods on hand. Hyperfocused? Set a timer and go take an actual break complete with a change of scenery when it goes off. Tummy troubles or flare ups of chronic conditions? Go to the doctor and get it looked into.
Write down what you’ve eaten recently, what your sleep patterns have been, and any symptoms you have experienced. As your mood changes, keep writing. The more information you have, the better your chances of untangling and understanding your patterns later.
An actual disease could be contributing to your mood swings. Treating that underlying cause will help stabilize your moods! I’ve noticed that when I keep my SIBO under control, I no longer suffer most of my mental health symptoms.