Dysphoric Mood: Warning Signs and How to Cope

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Dysphoria refers to a profound sense of unhappiness, distress, and indifference. It is not a diagnosis, but rather a symptom associated with various mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Read on to learn if you’re experiencing a dysphoric mood and what you can do about it.

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What Is Dysphoria?

Dysphoria describes an intense emotional state that can be a symptom of many mental health diagnoses. It is a profound state of dissatisfaction and unease. Many describe it as feeling unhappy or sad.

Symptoms may manifest themselves in depression, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. A person can also experience strong emotions like anger, a lack of interest or pleasure in activities, and disturbances to eating and sleeping patterns.

Research shows that people with dysphoria may be preoccupied with the future and see the world through a negative lens, making it difficult to gain perspective and consider realistic outcomes.

Dysphoric mood can occur during a mixed state, where an individual has feelings of sadness, apathy, or irritability while also experiencing symptoms of mania, such as inflated sense of self, racing thoughts, or pressured speech.

Dysphoric Mood vs. Dysphoric Mania

Dysphoric mood indicates a period when deep unhappiness, discontent, and disconnect are present. Symptoms are similar to those of depression, yet can be different. Dysphoric mania is the current term for a mixed state, meaning signs of depression and mania occur together. An example of this might look like racing thoughts and irritability while feeling depressed.

What Causes a Dysphoric Mood?

A 2017 review of studies examining the causes of different states in bipolar disorder attributed dysphoria to several factors:

  • Trauma
  • Negative childhood experiences
  • Substance use
  • Withdrawal from substances
  • Stress
  • Rumination (focusing on the same thoughts)
  • Disruptions in circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle)
  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Changes in neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which can cause shifts in mood

What Does Dysphoria Feel Like?

People have unique experiences of dysphoria. However, generally speaking, a dysphoric mood can include the following symptoms:

  • Irritability 
  • Powerful emotions such as guilt, anger, or melancholia
  • Feelings of failure
  • A deep sense of discontent or dissatisfaction 
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Aggression and hostility 
  • Lack of pleasure in daily activities
  • Stress
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Struggling to manage or recover from low and profound emotions

Overlap With Other Mental Disorders

A state of dysphoria can occur with the following conditions:

Dysphoria coupled with anxiety or substance use can complicate treatment. Seeking evaluation and treatment are critical to alleviating dysphoria.

The persistence of dysphoric mood may be an indication of an underlying mental health condition. It also increases a person’s risk of suicide.

Resources for Support

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Treatment for Dysphoric Mood

Treatment may vary based on the root or underlying cause of dysphoria. Consultation with a healthcare provider can help rule out any physical conditions, while an assessment with a psychiatrist may uncover psychological causes.

Treatment recommendations may include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other medications recommended by your provider.

Therapy can also be effective in supporting patients with dysphoric mood. Some strategies a patient may learn in therapy include:

  • Coping with distressing emotions
  • Establishing a consistent routine
  • Developing balanced thinking
  • Emotional regulation techniques

Coping Strategies

Prioritizing self-care and stress management can also help improve mood.

Examples of activities that may help include:

  • Practicing self-compassion
  • Exercising
  • Eating well
  • Getting consistent good sleep
  • Connecting with loved ones 
  • Mindfulness activities like deep breathing or meditation

Remember that help is out there. If you are feeling symptoms of dysphoric mood, reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.

Summary

A dysphoric mood is a consistent state of profound unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Symptoms can include discontent, irritability, stress, aggression, and feelings of anger, guilt, or failure. It can be a sign of many different mental health diagnoses, so it's important to share your symptoms with a healthcare provider or mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

Dysphoria can feel like a dense and impenetrable fog. It can be hard to shake emotions such as deep dissatisfaction, discontent, and sadness. Being assessed by a mental health professional can provide insight into what is contributing to dysphoria. This knowledge allows you to discuss treatment and self-care options to help improve your mood.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes dysphoria?

    Factors that contribute to dysphoria include significant or stressful life experiences, trauma, substance use, anxiety, disruptions in a person’s sleep-wake cycle, and persistent negative or unhelpful thoughts. Discussing your symptoms and experience with a provider is the best way to understand whether underlying mental health or physical conditions are playing a part in dysphoria.

  • Is dysphoria a diagnosis?

    Dysphoria is not a diagnosis. Instead, it describes an intense emotional state that can occur as a symptom of mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and PTSD. 

  • How long does dysphoria last?

    Dysphoria can last for a short while or persist for prolonged periods. The duration of symptoms will vary from person to person. Whether your symptoms are brief or enduring, reaching out for help can set you on a path to recovery.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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