Manage your mood: Nov'13

19 November 2013

Dr Mark Winwood our Director of Psychological Services provided advice and tips to help you manage your mood.

AXA PPP healthcare: Hi, welcome to our Q&A session on managing your mood with Dr Mark Winwood

Anonymous193: I suffer from anxiety which is getting better but have noticed my mood can vary from feeling quite good to moments of feeling very angry and its the angry state that scares me. Do you have any simple tips that can help (apart from the usual deep breathing) when I get these moments of feeling anger, or panic which makes the brain feel 'locked in' and I have to work really hard at being able to function clearly
Thank you

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello 193. The best place to start is to try and identify the triggers that seem to impact on your mood - to start this you might find it helpful to keep a diary or notes about the times you have felt angry. Think about the last time this happened:

  • What were the circumstances?
  • Did someone say or do something to trigger your anger?
  • How did you feel?
  • How did you behave?
  • How did you feel afterwards?

If you do this for a period of time, you will probably start to see patterns emerging. For example, you may be getting angry every time a senior male colleague tells you to do something. This could be because you had an unpleasant experience in the past with another male authority figure e.g. your father, or a previous boss. Or it may be you get angry each time you’re in a situation you have no control over.
Just recognising what is making you angry can sometimes be enough to help, and you may feel that it’s something you can then work out for yourself.
However, if you are finding it difficult to recognise your triggers, you may want to try talking to someone who is trained to help you understand your feelings and the reasons for them.
One of the best ways of clearing your head from angry thoughts is to learn to relax - you say you have already tried breathing slowly - which is a great technique–.
Other ones are:

  • Counting to 10 before you react – this gives you time to calm down so you can think more clearly  - or use a STOP sign - giving you some time to appraise the situation rather than just reacting. STOP stands for Stop, Breathe, Observe the situation and reappraise and then Proceed.  Giving yourself some space between the trigger and the reaction can have a really powerful impact on your behaviour.
  • Doing something creative – this can channel your energy and focus towards something else.
  • Listening to calming music – this can help change your mood and slow your physical and emotional reactions down.
  • Using a relaxation technique such as yoga or meditation.

AXA PPP healthcare asked: Hi Mark - Q from a Facebook fan; Hi Mark, I’m four-months pregnant and my mood seems all over the place. Any suggestions?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello Q. First thing - don't give yourself a hard time -having a baby is a life changing event!  Although many of your mood swings might be down to changes in your levels of certain hormones there are certainly things you can do to help.
1. Set yours self realistic goals - you don't have to paint the nursery, buy all the equipment, carry on at work etc... all at the same time
2. Give yourself time to enjoy yourself - don't lose your identity - you are still you!  Make plans to do things you enjoy - go to the cinema, meet friends and socialise. Give yourself some time to pamper yourself.
3. Talk it out - if you feel low, worried , anxious, upset - talk to friends or family or your partner - you will be amazed how getting your thoughts out in the open will help you.
4. Exercise - a walk, a swim etc... is a great way of releasing some natural endorphins in your brain and making you feel happier - do it with  a friend and have a laugh!
5. Lose the guilt - You're bound to feel overwhelmed, irritable and anxious at times, even if you've wanted a baby for years. So give yourself a break!
6. Bond with your other half
There is some really good resources on
Good luck with the new arrival!

AXA PPP healthcare asked: Hi Mark - a Q from Twitter ...
I work with someone who has terrible mood swings at work and it’s starting to make me feel really low. Is there anything I can do about it?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello - this is a tricky one. Depending how well you know this person -
If you feel you know them well it might be worthwhile addressing this with them directly and express your concern about their wellbeing but also the effect it is having on you.  You might find that this colleague would really respond well to someone being concerned about there state of mind and you may find that him or her being able to open up to you helps them with any distress they are experiencing. 
Mood swings although unpleasant for you are probably much worse for the person experiencing them - having someone to talk to might really help them.  If they become aware of the effects their mood is having on others it might motivate them to do something about it by getting some supportive help.
If you feel you are not able to address the issue yourself you might want to speak your manager about your concerns and the effect this persons behaviour is having on your own wellbeing - your employer has a duty of care to both of you and may have access to a range of supports such as an EAP that might be valuable to your colleague at this time.

AXA PPP healthcare asked: We’ve just had a question come through from Lindsay on Facebook;
‘Is it true that certain foods can affect your mood?’

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hi, great question - eating well and generally looking after ourselves has a really positive impact on our moods - here is a fact sheet I have just written on the subject - good luck!
Eat yourself happy
What we eat can have an impact on our mood, energy and wellbeing. Research indicates that by eating the right foods we can help prevent psychological problems occurring and assist in improving mood.  So here are some things to eat, that will  put a smile on your face:

  • Carbohydrates, such as brown bread, pasta, rice and sweet potatoes.  Carbohydrates boost the levels of the 'happy hormone' serotonin in our brains, responsible for promoting feelings of calm and happiness.
  • Fish, walnuts and soya products.  Research shows low levels of Omega 3 can increase your chances of feeling  depressed, and consuming foods high in this essential fatty acid not only boosts our mood, but can improve concentration and alertness.
  • Eating a Banana can cheer you up and put a smile on your face, since it adjusts the level of serotonin production in the brain.
  • Fruit and vegetables: research shows that not eating enough B vitamins, found in whole grains, green veg, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and pulses may contribute to poor mood, anxiety and depression.  Zinc, calcium, vitamin C and magnesium help your body cope better with stress, and they can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, berries, nuts, leafy green veg, soya products and wholegrain cereals.
  • Dark chocolate contains chemicals to brighten your mood such as phenylethylamine and anandamide, but only indulge in moderation.
  • Eating small amounts of protein from lean meat, fish or dairy can improve negative emotions including anxiety.
  • And avoid processed foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine as these have been linked to depression and/or mood swings.

AXA PPP healthcare asked: Another Q from Facebook; I’ve heard that simply going for walk can lift your mood. How often should I do this?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello. Exercise is a great way to keep you fit and lift your mood.  Start with 3 - 20 minute walks per week and then build up!  If you have any health or mobility issues it is always a good idea to see your GP before starting any exercise regime - but if you are generally well - just go for it!
Intensity is also important so try and get out of breath (not so much that you can't talk in sentences) and a bit hot - this will mean that the walking is having maximum impact.
Go with a friend if you can - that means you can spur each other on and motivate each other , but it will also become a social occasion.
All the best!

AXA PPP healthcare asked: Hi Mark one from Facebook; How should I react to my teenage son’s mood swings? He flares up within seconds and then seems perfectly calm. Is this normal?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello mother of teenage son. Your son is new to the surge of emotions that can come with the increase of hormones during puberty. Even adults take steps to prevent emotional flare-ups due to hormones.
Here are a few tips you can use to help your son control or deal with his mood swings.
1. Recognise what is happening.  Know that it isn’t just your son, this is quite normal for teenagers. It isn’t easy to deal with bad or sad feelings when you can’t figure out what is wrong.
2. Encourage your son to try to identify what is happening. Help your son to recognise the signs of his bad moods, so he  knows what is happening. Let him know that he isn’t alone, this happens to most people.
3.Teach your son teen coping skills. When the situation is calm, role play and show them how to count back from 10, go for a walk or listen to music. Modeling these appropriate behaviours when you are in a bad mood will help your son be better prepared.
4. Support a healthy lifestyle in your home. Getting enough rest and eating right goes a long way for anyone’s mood. This is also an opportunity for you to model the appropriate behaviour.
5. Encourage your son to take preventative steps though creativity and being involved. Being involved in a hobby will help your son’s moods stay on an even keel. It will teaching him more coping skills and resilience.
6. Allow your son to wait out the mood. If he  needs a good cry or to just pace around his room, give him  the privacy to do it. Offer comfort and let your son know you are there if he/ needs to talk.
So - it is normal for your son to have mood swings - its a part of being a teenager.  However, if they persist or get worse or he becomes aggressive I would recommend a trip to the GP.

Anonymous230 asked: What is the difference between being unhappy a lot because life isn't going well and being depressed?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello 230. The symptoms of depression and being unhappy can be quite similar and can include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Inadequacy
  • Anxiety
  • Self-hatred
  • Negativity
  • An inability to enjoy things which were once pleasurable in life
  • Guilt
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Loss of energy or motivation
  • Loss of sex-drive
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Poor concentration, indecisiveness
  • Irritability, anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Self-harm
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

However - the way we distinguish between being and unhappy and having depression is by looking at the persistence of symptoms and the extent to which they affect your daily life.
1. Are these feelings persistent, meaning that they never seem to go away and don’t change much from day to day, even when there isn’t any particular reason for feeling that way?
2. Do they interfere with your life, leaving you unable to enjoy things you normally like doing? In severe cases, depression can make normal everyday tasks like getting dressed or doing the shopping feel like an impossible mountain to climb.
I hope this answers your question. 

Anonymous232 asked: Does chocolate really lift your mood?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello Anonymous 232 - the good news is yes - DARK chocolate (not milk or white - which isn't chocolate at all!) - can have a positive effect on your mood.
Here's the science -
The basic ingredients of dark chocolate include cacao beans, sugar, soy lecithin and flavourings. This , which contains fewer milk solids than  milk chocolate, often is rated by the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30 percent to above 80 percent. Some of dark chocolate’s benefits come from resveratrol, an antioxidant (immune system booster) found in red wine, among other products. Its mental health benefits include the ability to boost brain levels of endorphins (natural opiates) as well as serotonin (a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act). Because it can increase serotonin levels in the brain, dark chocolate also may increase serotonin production in the gut, and thus help your immune system.
But before you decide to switch to an all-dark-chocolate diet and throw away the salad, keep this in mind: The recommended dose is one ounce per day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it may help!

Anonymous232 commented: I'm going through a similar problem and these tips are really useful. Thank you!

Anonymous232 commented: Sorry, the above comment was meant for the query about the teenage son!

Dr Mark Winwood answered: No problem - I am really glad you find it helpful!

AXA PPP healthcare asked: Twitter Q;
I don’t feel I’m an anxious person during the day, but I sometimes wake up in the night in a terrible state. Why the difference in mood?

Dr Mark Winwood answered: Hello. Anxiety that gets worse in the evenings is interesting, because there isn't necessarily a medical reason for it. There are, however, several potential reasons that someone may experience nighttime or evening anxiety.
1. Post-Work Stress – Many people experience considerable anxiety after work. When you're feeling stressed at work for a considerable amount of time and go home to your own thoughts, it's not uncommon for that tension to grow, leading to further late night anxiety.
2. Lack of Distractions – Throughout the morning and afternoon, you're very busy. Distractions are actually an important tool for relieving anxiety. So those that are busy at work or busy in the mornings will be less likely to be able to focus on their stresses. But once all of that is over and the distractions are gone, anxiety has a tendency to bubble up to the surface.
 3. Late Night Associations – For many, anxiety becomes associated with events. For example, if you often fight in bed with your spouse, then going to bed will create more anxiety even if you're not fighting. It's possible that you have had several arguments or problems around dinner time or later, and so when you start to approach that time your body becomes anxious in anticipation.
4. Physical Responses – Some people find that they are more prone to hyperventilation in the evenings, as well as experiencing more aches and pains and fatigue. Those with anxiety attacks may react to these feelings with greater levels of anxiety. Since each person has their own triggers, those with evening anxiety may have more night triggers.
It's possible that some people are more prone to biological responses as well. Brain chemistry changes based on energy levels, time of day, diet, and other factors that may differ at night compared to during the day.
Also, some people become their own mental enemy in the evening. As soon as you start to wonder whether or not you're more prone to evening anxiety, you're also setting yourself up to anticipate evening anxiety. As strange as it sounds, the very realisation that you have evening anxiety may make evening anxiety more likely.
Basic sleep hygiene - available in a factsheet from AXA PPP healthcare's Stronger Minds Campaign may be helpful in addressing this.

AXA PPP healthcare: Thanks everyone for joining - our Q&A session is now finished