What Is Dysphoria?

A Sense of Unease That Can Happen With Depression and Other Conditions

People experiencing dysphoria lack enthusiasm about life.

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Dysphoria or dysphoric mood is a mental state in which a person has a profound sense of unease or dissatisfaction. While not a mental health diagnosis on its own, dysphoria is a symptom associated with a variety of mental illnesses, some of which include stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.

Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria, which describes a state of extreme happiness.

There are different types of dysphoria that a person may experience. This includes gender dysphoria, which is a sense of unease caused by a conflict between a person's assigned sex at birth and their gender identity.

Learn how to recognize the signs of dysphoria or dysphoric mood, some of the factors that may contribute to this sense of unease, and the different types of dysphoria that a person may experience. We also cover available treatments and ways to cope.

Signs of Dysphoria

Dysphoria may accompany other signs of depression or mental health problems, such as crying, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and disturbances in appetite or sleep. Some of the common signs of dysphoria include:

  • Apathy
  • Fatigue
  • Low life satisfaction
  • Sadness
  • Unease
  • Worry

An example of dysphoria might include feeling unable to relax, dissatisfied, tense, and unable to find the energy or interest to do anything.

People who experience dysphoria also appear to think differently. A 2019 study published in Psychiatry Research found that dysphoria was linked to more frequent thoughts about the future.

People with dysphoria reported more negative thoughts and more unrealistic or implausible outcomes.

It’s unclear whether more negative thoughts about the future cause dysphoria or whether dysphoria causes a bleaker outlook.

Prevalence of Dysphoria

A person experiencing dysphoria might not necessarily qualify for a mental illness diagnosis such as depression. Instead, their symptoms may be too mild or too short in duration to meet the criteria.

It’s estimated that about 5% of the general population experiences dysphoria, with women between ages 25 and 44 at the highest risk. Dysphoria may be fleeting or short-lived. It often resolves quickly. But long-term dysphoria, which is often related to mental illness, may cause a higher risk of suicide.

Causes of Dysphoria

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to feelings of dysphoria. Some of these include:

  • Stress: Environmental stressors, like the loss of a loved one, a stressful work environment, or family conflict may cause feelings of dysphoria.
  • Health conditions: Some physical health conditions, like nutritional deficiencies, thyroid problems, or toxicities may also cause dysphoria.
  • Medications: Dysphoria may additionally be a side effect of certain medications.

Other Mental Health Conditions

Dysphoria may be associated with a variety of mental health conditions. People with the following mental illnesses may report dysphoria:

Substance Use

Up to 70% of people with alcohol dependence report dysphoria during heavy drinking. People with alcohol dependence and a mood disorder are especially likely to experience more dysphoria as well as poorer clinical outcomes.

In some cases, dysphoria may lead to heavy drinking. In other cases, heavy drinking may cause dysphoria. Mood often improves when a person stops drinking, but the improvement may not be immediate.

Dysphoria often occurs in the weeks following withdrawal. As appetite and sleep improve, dysphoria usually subsides.

Tobacco Use

Dysphoria has also been linked to tobacco use. It is associated with higher levels of tobacco dependence, greater perceived barriers to smoking cessation, and more severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Among all depressive symptoms, dysphoria holds the strongest association with smoking outcomes. Researchers suspect it is central to the development and maintenance of maladaptive smoking.

A 2019 study published in Addictive Behaviors found that individuals with pain-related anxiety are especially likely to smoke cigarettes to cope with feelings of dysphoria.

Types of Dysphoria

Because dysphoria is not considered a diagnosable mental health condition, it is not formally divided into different types. However, there are different related conditions that may be unofficially considered as types of dysphoria.

Gender Dysphoria

Currently, the term dysphoria is most commonly used when discussing gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria refers to the distress a person experiences when their gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

The dysphoria sometimes resolves when the individual transitions or begins to live as the gender they identify with. However, some people continue to experience dysphoria during and after transitioning.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Dysphoria may also be talked about in terms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Symptoms may include a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including moodiness, irritability, depression, and poor self-image. It may be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

Tardive Dysphoria

Tardive dysphoria is used to describe treatment-resistant chronic depression. This type of dysphoria is linked to the long-term use of antidepressants.

Treatment for Dysphoria

If you are experiencing a dysphoric mood that lasts more than two weeks, it’s important to seek professional help. Start by talking to your physician. Your doctor will want to rule out any medical conditions or medication interactions that may be causing your dysphoria.

Once physical health issues are ruled out, you may be referred to a mental health professional, who can assess your symptoms and determine if your dysphoria is part of a mental health condition. Treatment depends on the cause of the dysphoria.

Talk therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes may be recommended to help improve your mood and assist you in feeling your best.

Coping With Dysphoria

In addition to professional treatments, there are also lifestyle modifications that may help people cope with feelings of dysphoria. Some things that you can do if you are having dysphoric feelings include:

  • Adjust your routines: Sometimes getting stuck in a rut can make it difficult to break out of the routines that are contributing to feelings of dysphoria. Finding ways to adjust your daily habits may help lift your mood.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Nutritional factors can play a role in mood and mental health, so making sure that you are eating well may be helpful in reducing feelings of dysphoria.
  • Exercise: Research has shown that exercise can play an important role in mental health and may even be useful as a treatment for depression. Try to follow the CDC's guidelines for physical activity, which include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.
  • Spend time with others: Dysphoria can sometimes cause people to isolate themselves, but social support can play an important role in mental well-being. Focus on finding ways to make more time for family and friends.

If you or a loved one are struggling with dysphoria, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Verywell Mind 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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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.