Nearly everyone has experienced feelings of dysphoria at some time in their lives. You may feel great most of the time. You may even feel euphoric at times, experiencing an intensely exciting and happy mood when things are going great for you. But sometimes, you feel generally bad. It isn't a rare feeling, but it can last too long for comfort or even be a sign of a deeper problem for some people.
What Is Dysphoria?
Understanding dysphoric moods helps to find out what psychology says about the subject. Here is a brief discussion of the definition and some additional facts about dysphoria.
Although many different definitions have been proposed, psychologists are still striving to find the precise definition of dysphoria. It may help to start with the origin of the word. It comes from a Greek word meaning distress that's hard to bear. A dysphoric mood is certainly an unpleasant state, but could it mean something more specific?
Psychologists have concluded that dysphoria is a complex state distinct from mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Several components of dysphoria have been identified. These components include specific emotional states, like:
Other components of a dysphoric mood include cognitive features, such as:
Finally, there are behavior elements of dysphoria. These include:
Dysphoria has been called a milder form of depression, a mixed mood, or a mood on the bipolar spectrum different from mania or depression. The bottom line is that if you feel generally unhappy and irritable, you may benefit from seeking counseling to discover ways to relieve your dysphoric mood.
Is Dysphoria A Diagnosis?
While psychologists do recognize the difficulty of being in a dysphoric mood, it is not a diagnosis. It's a mood and not a mental illness. The term "dysphoria" is not listed by itself as a diagnosis in the DSM-5. It can be a symptom of a physical or mental illness, though.
What About Diagnoses That Use the Term "Dysphoria?"
Certain conditions have "dysphoria" in their name. For example, there is a state called gender dysphoria, in which the person is discontented with the gender they were assigned at birth. There is that same element of being discontented, but other than that, there is no real similarity between the two terms.
Another instance in which the word "dysphoric" is part of a diagnostic term is premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Again, this is a specific disorder that has many more elements besides mood. PMDD happens to women and causes symptoms of depression, irritability, and tension. PMDD has the irritability of a dysphoric mood, but it also has other unrelated symptoms and a clear biological trigger.
How Long Does Dysphoria Last?
A dysphoric mood, like other types of moods, can pass very quickly. If you have a brief feeling of discontent or unhappiness that goes away shortly on its own, it's likely nothing to be alarmed about. However, dysphoria can sometimes hold on for a very long time for certain people. Long-lasting dysphoria can be a sign of a significant medical or mental health problem. The reverse is also true. It can also lead to medical and mental health issues.
Symptoms of Dysphoria
The symptoms of a dysphoric mood vary from person to person and from time to time. However, dysphoria always includes both an element of unhappiness and an element of irritability.
Unhappiness can show up in many ways. You may feel dissatisfied with your life or the state of world affairs. You may feel discontented and see your life as less than you'd hoped for. You may experience feelings of uneasiness that you can't explain. And you may have a deep feeling of distress and inner tension.
Irritability may become a big problem for you and your loved ones if you're in a dysphoric mood. You become easily frustrated with minor things that don't usually upset you. Or, your frustration may be diffuse, encompassing large issues that are far beyond your control. Feeling restless, you may find it hard to be still or stick with a project to its completion. You may even be generally suspicious.
Along with the irritability, you may feel extreme hostility towards others. You may engage in aggression or destructive behavior, even if you're usually a kind, gentle person. Your dysphoric mood affects your behavior, which can lead to relationship problems.
What Causes Dysphoria?
Often, when someone recognizes that they're in a dysphoric mood, the first thing they want to know is why it's happening to them. What's causing them to feel this way? They may not see any valid reason for their feelings, yet they feel them intensely at the same time. Here are a few issues that can sometimes lead to a dysphoric mood.
Clearly, being under stress at work or home can put you in a very bad mood. Is it a dysphoric mood, though? If you have those symptoms related to unhappiness and discontent, and irritability symptoms, you may be experiencing a dysphoric mood. If the stressful situation ends and the mood passes quickly, this is usually not a major problem. However, you might not be able to avoid stress. Instead, you need to find ways to cope with the stress and carry on with your life in the best way possible.
Grief may put you in a dysphoric mood, at least for a while. It doesn't mean you're depressed. It may just be a part of your grief process. If the dysphoria lingers, you can get help and learn how to deal with your grief more effectively so you can move on to the next phase of your life with a sense of hope.
Some medical conditions can cause dysphoric moods. For example, people who have hypoglycemic episodes may feel dysphoric when their blood sugar level tanks. People with major illnesses such as cancer or kidney disease or chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes may have dysphoric moods without becoming clinically depressed. For them, treating the medical condition appropriately may provide some relief from the dysphoric mood.
Several mental illnesses have been associated with dysphoric moods. Some of these include:
Although these mental conditions have been linked to dysphoric moods, those moods are not the defining characteristics of the psychiatric condition. Rather, dysphoria may be one symptom of many. Or, it may be the result of living with the stress of having a mental illness.
Dysphoria is sometimes associated with problems in romantic relationships. One study found that young women experiencing dysphoria had less support from their romantic partners than their friends. The more dysfunctional the relationship was, the more likely the woman would be stuck in a dysphoric mood. If you're having trouble in your relationship, then you may be able to resolve or even avoid dysphoria by working on the relationship.
Can Dysphoria Be Treated?
Before you can get treatment for dysphoric moods, you first need to know if you have them. Learning about the symptoms is a good first step. You can also talk to a therapist or a couples' counselor if you're in a relationship. They may evaluate whether your physical health is a factor in your dysphoria and refer you to a physician if so.
Your counselor may then use certain tools, such as the Nepean Dysphoria Scale. This scale asks simple questions about the way you're thinking, feeling, and behaving. Your therapist can score it to find out how dysphoric your mood is. Whether your counselor uses a dysphoria scale or not, they will talk to you about those same subjects and ask similar questions. The scale is just one tool they may use, along with their professional discernment and understanding of the dysphoric state.
After discovering a dysphoric mood, especially if it is a lingering one, your counselor can help you explore the thoughts behind the feelings. They can guide you as you evaluate those thoughts and decide whether to hold onto them or replace them with more helpful thoughts. They may also suggest lifestyle changes to help you feel better physically, which can, in turn, affect your mood.
You may also need to resolve relationship issues that contribute to your dysphoria. Or, you and your partner may need to work together to learn how to give each other helpful support as one of you is going through this uncomfortable state. Seeking help may be the first step to building a life that's more satisfying, enjoyable, and peaceful.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What causes a dysphoric mood?
A dysphoric mood is not the same as the DSM's classification of mood disorders. Unlike mood disorders, a dysphoric mood is not a diagnosis since it describes an individual's mental wellbeing. However, physical and mental symptoms of a dysphoric mood can be a symptom of another physical or mental illness.
People may find themselves in a dysphoric mood for various reasons, including:
What does it mean to feel dysphoric?
If a person has a dysphoric mood, they may feel unhappy, irritable, and unsatisfied with their life. As such, they could experience mood swings (such as having a dysphoric mania experience for a few days but then crashing and feeling depressed after).
People with dysphoria may not take responsibility for their actions or have unfounded suspicions. These cognitive features can result in aggressive behavior, such as violent outbursts.
One prominent example of feeling dysphoric comes from gender dysphoria, an experience in which people do not feel comfortable with their assigned gender at birth. Even if you're familiar with the experiences associated with gender dysphoria, gender dysphoria can be debilitating.
If you've never heard of gender dysphoria, gender dysphoria can be confusing to experience. Gender dysphoria can lead an individual to feel deeply uncomfortable with their body and experience a great deal of mental anguish as a result.
What are the symptoms of dysphoria?
The symptoms of dysphoria are different from person to person. Still, each experiencing a dysphoric mania experience or other signs of dysphoria typically exhibit signs of unhappiness and irritability, along with mood swings.
People may experience dysphoric mania experience and depression (or another mental illness) at the same time or separately, depending on their specific case.
Here are some common signs of dysphoria mania experience and depression in those with dysphoria as well as general symptoms:
Is dysphoria depression?
Although dysphoria can have symptoms associated with depression (depressed mood anxiety and low energy, among others), dysphoria itself is not considered an official diagnosis or a form of mental illness and is not the same as depression.
It's tempting to tie dysphoria to mental illnesses; for instance, if a person has a dysphoric mania experience, it's natural to wonder if their symptoms could be linked to bipolar disorder. There are indeed mental illnesses, including depression, that are related to dysphoria to some degree.
For example, premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a serious mental health condition in which a woman experiences depressed mood anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and tension before menstruation.
The premenstrual dysphoric disorder symptoms occur 5 to 11 days before the start of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle and typically stops before or after their period. There is a possibility these their mood swings and mood anxiety could be indicators of other mental illnesses, such as generalized anxiety disorder or seasonal affective disorder.
Body dysmorphic disorder also shares similarities with a dysphoric mood. Body dysmorphic disorder occurs when a person cannot stop negatively thinking about, analyzing, or criticizing their physical appearance.
People with body dysmorphic disorder may feel incredibly anxious or stressed about small parts of their body that they perceive as a physical defect. As such, people may see themselves as ugly, miss out on work or school, and ignore family and friends. They may have a hard time finding it impossible to clearly and accurately view their body; it can feel like you don't recognize the person in the mirror.
No matter why you're experiencing dysphoric moods, seeking out the help of a trained mental health professional is a great first step toward self-improvement and relief from your symptoms.
What is the most common mood disorder?
Many mood disorders are common among the world's population. Due to the many factors that can cause mood disorders, it isn't easy to pinpoint which particular one is the most prevalent in today's day and age.
Common mood disorders include:
The treatment methods for mood disorders such as depressive disorder, dysthymia, and a dysphoric mania experience typically include therapy options like cognitive-behavioral therapy. A dysphoric mania experience may also warrant other treatment options, like support groups or psychiatric care.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mood disorder, a good first step is to reach out to someone you trust and talk to them about your feelings. Oftentimes the biggest obstacle with overcoming mood disorders or any other mental illness is feeling lonely or unsupported.