Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Storms of Temperament

Are you a victim of your moods? To some extent, each person is at the mercy of the shifting winds of individual temperament. Approximately 2400 years ago, the Greek playwright Euripedes said,"There is no harbour of peace from the changing waves of joy and despair." And about 400 years ago, the French author Michel de Montaigne wrote in his Essays,"If health and a fair day smile on me, I am a very good fellow; if a corn trouble my toe, I am sullen, out of humour, and inaccessible." In short, to be human is to have emotional ups and downs. Within reasonable limits, this must be accepted. 

However, there are people who experience wild, uncontrollable mood swings. These unhappy individuals are like ships at sea trying to keep from sinking in a storm -- in this case, a storm of temperament. Mood can be defined as "a transient, involuntary emotional state.". Associated with the primary psychological symptom of pathological fluctuations in mood (that is, mood swings that leave the individual emotionally drained and that interfere with the normal functioning of everyday life) are the following signs and symptoms:

  • episodic mania or hypomania
  • episodic depression
  • erratic, unpredictable behaviour
  • alternations in both approaching and avoiding others
  • extreme fluctuations in weight
  • wide variations in the need for sleep
  • a chaotic, ragged emotional life
Mania is characterized by euphoria, elation, agitation and hurried speech. When mania is extreme, the individual will appear to others as "mad" or "crazy". For lower levels of mania intensity, it is appropriate to use the term hypomania. The individual displaying hypomania will seem neither mad nor crazy, but will appear to be inappropriately elated and excited. When there are pathological fluctuations in mood, either mania or hypomania will alternate with depression. 

Wide variations in the need for sleep are linked to mood. In general, persons in a state of mania seem to need little sleep or suffer from insomnia. Depressed persons, on the other hand, may sleep 10-12 hours per day. They appear to use sleep as a way to escape from reality.

Bipolar disorder is the diagnostic term used in psychiatry and clinical psychology when mood fluctuations are severe and extremely disruptive. The former name of this disorder was manic-depressive psychosis, which suggests that alternations of mania and depression were so severe that the individual had lost touch with reality. 

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