Why Am I So Emotional? Nine Common Reasons For Intense Emotions

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis
Updated March 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Almost everyone experiences strong emotions sometimes, especially in response to significant events that affect us personally. However, you may feel that your emotional responses are out of proportion to what’s happening in your life. Are you snapping at people over tiny mistakes, laughing for no apparent reason, or bursting into tears due to small inconveniences? It can be alarming to feel overly emotional when you have no idea why. It’s possible you may be emotional due to personality traits, or the cause could involve stress, poor nutrition, major life changes, hormonal issues, or various mental health disorders. Lifestyle changes can be helpful in controlling emotions, but if you need more help, working with a therapist online can be an excellent tool.

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Are extreme, unstable emotions causing difficulty in your life?

Personality traits

Being more emotional than others isn’t necessarily a sign of problems. Levels of emotional intensity can vary substantially from person to person and may be substantially shaped by both early life experiences and genetics. Some research suggests that roughly 20% of people may be highly sensitive to both sensory and emotional stimuli. If you’ve always felt more emotional than the people around you, there’s a chance it’s just part of who you are.

Some people may experience shame about being highly emotional, but learning to accept and value this trait in yourself could be important for your well-being. Emotional sensitivity may fuel positive aspects of your life, such as creativity and romance, and if you learn to process them effectively, your feelings could be an important source of strength. If you would like to learn strategies for better managing intense emotions, working with a therapist could be helpful

Lack of sleep

This explanation might seem overly simplistic, but poor sleep habits tend to be among the most common health issues in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that roughly one in three Americans gets too little sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with your ability to control your emotions, potentially making you more likely to have disproportionate responses to small stressors.

Simple measures, such as setting a firm lights-out time, getting more exercise, and avoiding electronic media in the hours before sleep, may help you adopt a more frequent and healthy sleep schedule. Guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggest that adults should typically aim for at least seven hours of restful sleep per night.

Hunger and poor nutrition

Healthy eating habits can play a significant role in helping you respond appropriately to emotional situations. If you’re not eating enough, or you’re going too long between meals, low blood sugar can intensify feelings of anger and sadness. On the other hand, eating too much and consuming calorie-dense food could be linked to anxiety and depression.

Adopting a habit of eating three frequent meals per day rather than skipping meals or frequently snacking could make it easier to avoid both overeating and undereating. It may also be a good idea to try to eat a varied diet, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean proteins, rather than consuming mostly carbohydrates, fats, and sugars.

Stress

If you’re experiencing a significant amount of stress, the mental tension you’re experiencing might make your feelings seem harder to control. A study from 2015 found that biological markers of stress, such as the hormone cortisol, tended to be linked with anger. When you feel overly burdened by responsibility or worried about events in your life or the world, it may leave you with less mental energy with which to manage your own emotions.

Some of the suggestions given above, such as exercising routinely, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet, can improve your resilience to stress as well. When possible, it might also be a good idea to reduce your exposure to stressors — for example, by limiting how much time you spend reading negative news stories or requesting to transfer departments if you have an unpleasant coworker. Another technique that may help is mindfulness meditation, which can help individuals function better, even in very high-stress roles.

Major life changes

In addition to chronic, low-grade stress from challenging elements of everyday life, it can also be common to experience stress and mood changes following significant changes or upheavals in your life. Significant losses might spark grief, which can seem to strike at unusual times, and positive changes might make you feel giddy and overly energetic. Most people return to their usual levels of emotionality over time, though this may take years in the case of serious disruptions such as the death of a spouse or child. 

Some changes in your level of emotionality can be a natural part of adapting to significant shifts in your life. The healthiest response may be to be patient with yourself, taking some time and space to process the emotions you’re experiencing. Talking with trusted friends and family may make this process easier, as can working with support groups or a therapist.

iStock/tommaso79

Hormonal changes

The complex interplay of various hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol can be important for controlling your feelings and moods. Imbalances or sudden shifts in your hormone levels can lead to mood swings or unusually intense emotions. These changes can be a natural part of aging, as in puberty or menopause, or they may result from illness or medications, such as hormonal contraceptives. Despite cultural stereotypes, hormone-related emotional disturbances can occur in people of any gender.

If you think that you may have a hormone imbalance, it’s often best to consult with a doctor about possible treatments. However, adopting a healthier lifestyle may help, since factors such as proper sleep and exercise appear to play an important role in managing your body’s hormone levels. 

Psychological trauma

Some extremely stressful events, such as severe threats to your physical health and safety, can have long-term negative impacts on your mental well-being. This can result in mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder. In many cases, these conditions may involve intense emotions, such as anger, fear, and shame, as well as impulsive or unpredictable behavior.

Current clinical research suggests that psychotherapy is usually the best treatment for PTSD and other trauma-related challenges. Several different approaches can have significant effectiveness in reducing symptoms, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy. If you think your emotional disruptions may be trauma-related, you might want to get in touch with a licensed therapist.

Other mental health conditions

Post-traumatic stress disorder may not be the only mental health challenge that can involve intense, hard-to-control emotions. Other examples may include:

  • Bipolar disorder: People with this condition may experience dramatic highs and lows in their moods, energy levels, and emotional intensity.
  • Borderline personality disorder: Individuals with BPD may experience even more rapid shifts in mood than people with bipolar disorder. They may also have difficulties with interpersonal relationships and self-image.
  • Depression: Though some people experience emotional numbness as part of depression, others may have extreme feelings of sadness and despair. 

When you have concerns about your mental health, it’s usually best to consult a licensed professional about diagnosis and treatment. Various types of therapy and medication, under the guidance of a licensed healthcare provider, may be able to help you manage and reduce symptoms of mental illness, including extreme and unwanted emotionality.

Abuse

Another possibility is that your emotional reactions are not extreme or unwarranted at all. An abusive and controlling person might attempt to convince you that you are overly emotional so that you doubt your own judgment and accept their abusive behavior as normal. This tactic is often referred to as gaslighting. If someone in your life repeatedly tells you that you’re too emotional when you confront them about their hurtful actions toward you, it could be a warning sign of abuse.

The best response to an abusive situation is often to leave as soon as you can safely do so, cutting ties with the abuser and taking steps to ensure your physical safety. The National Domestic Violence Hotline may be able to provide advice and suggest options for those experiencing abuse. In addition to the linked website, the hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Are extreme, unstable emotions causing difficulty in your life?

Therapy can help you manage your emotions

No matter what’s causing you to feel highly emotional, a licensed therapist may be able to help you better process your feelings and control your behavior. If you’re unsure how to locate a therapist near you, online therapy might be a good way to get started. Many licensed mental health professionals can conduct therapy sessions remotely, enabling you to attend sessions from your own home. This approach may also make it easier to connect with a therapist you like since it frequently enables you to reach providers who aren’t based in your area.

Evidence suggests that online therapy can work just as well as in-person treatment. Researchers reviewing the scientific literature found “no difference in effectiveness” between online and face-to-face therapy. Many clients report high levels of satisfaction with internet-based therapy and find that it offers substantial improvements in their emotional well-being.

Online therapist reviews

"I really love Dr. Hay. Not only is she responsive, and timely in her responses, but she's also extremely knowledgeable and supportive as my counselor. I would highly recommend her if you are looking to work on any emotional disorders. She helps me with my anxiety issues and her quick responses I think are strategic in helping me not panic while I wait to hear from her. Highly recommend."

"Jennifer is a pleasure to talk to. She listens intently and offers solutions that are easily applied to make a huge difference in life. The way she explains the psychology and biological process behind our reactions and emotions allows a person to really recognize and overcome anything."

Takeaway

Being emotional isn’t always a bad thing, but some conditions and circumstances can cause your feelings to become intense enough that they’re disruptive to your life. Personality traits, lack of sleep, stress, and psychological trauma may all contribute to heightened emotions. Healthy habits, such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising consistently, eating well, and meditating may help you better manage your emotions. Therapy with a licensed mental health professional can also be highly effective.

Target disruptive behavior in therapy

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