Why Am I So Emotional? 9 Common Reasons For Intense Emotions

Updated March 8, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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. 

Many factors can influence the strength of your emotions, including both internal qualities and life circumstances. Identifying what’s behind your feelings may provide a sense of reassurance and help you return to a sense of normalcy. Here are the 9 most likely reasons you’re feeling intensely emotional.

Are Extreme, Unstable Emotions Causing Difficulty In Your Life?

#1: Personal 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 are 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.

What Might Help?

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 help 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

#2: Lack Of Sleep

This explanation might seem overly simplistic, but poor sleep habits are 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, making you more likely to have disproportionate responses to small stressors.

What Might Help?

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 to adopt a more regular and healthy sleep schedule. Guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggest that adults should aim for at least 7 hours of restful sleep per night.

#3: 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 highly calorie-dense food could be linked to anxiety and depression.

What Might Help?

Adopting a habit of eating three regular 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 make an effort to eat a varied diet including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean proteins, rather than consuming mostly carbohydrates, fats, and sugars.

#4: 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.

What Might Help?

Some of the suggestions given above, such as exercising regularly, 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 has been repeatedly shown to help individuals function better even in very high-stress roles.

#5: Major Life Changes

In addition to chronic, low-grade stress from challenging elements of everyday life, it’s also 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. 

What Might Help?

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 dealing with. Talking with trusted friends and family may make this process easier, as can working with support groups or a therapist.

#6: Hormonal Changes

The complex interplay of various hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol is 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.

What Might Help?

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. 

#7: 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.

What Might Help?

Current clinical research suggests that psychotherapy is the best treatment for PTSD and other trauma-related challenges. Several different approaches have shown 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 trained therapist.

#8: Other Mental Health Conditions

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

  • Bipolar disorder. People with this condition may experience dramatic highs and lows in their mood, energy level, and emotional intensity.

  • Borderline personality disorder. Individuals with BPD may experience even more rapid shifts in mood than people with bipolar disorder, and may also have difficulties with interpersonal relationships and self-image.

  • Depression. Though some people experience emotional numbness as part of depression, others have extreme feelings of sadness and despair. 

What Might Help?

When you have concerns about your mental health, it’s usually best to consult a trained 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.

#9: Abuse

One other 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.

What Might Help?

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).

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 trained therapist might 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 participate from inside your own home. This approach may also make it easier to connect with a therapist you like since it 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 counseling and find that it offers substantial improvements in their emotional well-being.

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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. Healthy habits such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, eating well, and meditating may help you better regulate your emotions. Therapy with a trained mental health professional can also be highly effective.

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