Feeling a wide range of emotions is a normal part of the human experience. There is no shame in being emotional, especially when life’s circumstances trigger powerful emotions.
When a person’s emotions interfere with their relationships or feel overwhelming, they may worry that they are too emotional. How emotional a person is is a subjective judgment. There is no right or wrong emotional reaction to emotional triggers.
That said, when emotions feel out of control, it may signal an underlying problem.
Keep reading to learn more about eight possible causes of heightened emotions, including both psychological and physical factors.
Numerous physical and mental health conditions can cause a person to feel extra emotional. These range from stress to hormonal changes.
1. Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder
People who have a history of trauma or are currently facing trauma may have emotional reactions that seem disproportionate to the situation.
For example, a rape survivor might experience panic when seeing someone who looks like their rapist or intense anger in response to news stories about rape.
The National Center for PTSD emphasizes that anger is a common effect of trauma. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some returning soldiers murdered their partners or other family members.
Although this represented a very small fraction of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it suggests that the trauma of war may have led to excessive anger and violence.
2. Mental health issues
Numerous mental health conditions can affect a person’s emotions. Depression, for instance, may make a person feel sad or angry. The specific symptoms may vary depending on the person’s environment and socialization.
Some research suggests that men may express more anger than sadness when they are depressed.
3. Hormonal shifts
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. As such, changes in hormones — especially dramatic and sudden changes — may affect a person’s emotions.
Although popular media often depict a person’s period as a reason for their excessive emotions, research does not consistently or strongly support this claim in healthy people.
In the review, just 14.9% of studies found a link between the premenstrual period and negative moods. However, people with premenstrual dysphoric disorder — a mental health condition linked to the menstrual cycle — may experience period-related mood shifts.
4. Socialization and cultural norms
Cultural norms help determine what level of emotional expression is normal. A person’s socialization into this norm may affect how they judge their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
Gender and other social factors may also affect a person’s interpretation of emotions.
Gender stereotyping begins in infancy. One 2016 study suggests that adult caregivers are more likely to view female infants’ cries as higher pitched, even though there is no actual difference in cries between male and female infants.
It is important for people who are concerned about their own emotions to weigh whether they are “too emotional,” whether it is causing actual harm, or whether their emotional expressiveness is just a mismatch with their culture and environment.
5. Physical health issues
Physical health issues can affect mood in several ways. For example, physical health problems may make daily functioning more difficult and challenging, depleting a person’s energy and causing moodiness.
Physical health problems may also directly affect mood by changing how the brain processes information or shifting hormones.
6. Unmet physical needs
The mind and body are not separate entities. This means that changes in a person’s physical state may affect their emotions, especially when they have less energy to manage stress or a demanding physical workload.
Many people also feel excessively emotional when they are tired. However, it is important to note that certain medical conditions,
Dismissing someone as excessively emotional is one way to devalue their experience and dismiss the severity of the stress they are feeling. It is especially common for women to have their emotions dismissed as excessive.
People, including the individual feeling the emotion, may also dismiss an emotion based on notions of gender stereotyping.
People experiencing stress may have more mood shifts or seem more emotional than usual. There are several reasons for this:
- Dealing with stress can weaken a person’s coping skills.
- People under stress may neglect their physical needs, causing them to feel tired or hungry.
- Feeling overwhelmed can make it more difficult to deal with even minor stressors, such as a child interrupting a conversation or a spouse calling to talk.
This is a normal and common reaction to stress, and it does not mean that something is wrong with a person. However, this reaction can also increase stress by triggering conflict with loved ones and other challenges.
So, finding a way to manage the stress may prevent it from getting worse.
When a person feels unable to manage their emotions, they may react in ways that affect their relationships, jobs, or education.
Additionally, feeling overly emotional can be exhausting and unpleasant. Some people may feel out of control because of intense anger or anxiety.
Some symptoms that a person might notice due to high emotions include:
- difficulty sleeping
- conflict with loved ones
- difficulty getting or staying motivated
- increased aches and pains
- difficulty practicing self-care
The right remedy for handling intense emotions depends on the emotion and its cause.
Some options include:
- better physical care, such as exercising, eating regular meals, and getting enough sleep
- treatment for physical health conditions
- treatment for mental health conditions, such as medications, support groups, or psychotherapy
- developing a strategy for managing the source of the emotion
- better social support, including the acknowledgment that intense emotions are a common and normal reaction to stress and trauma
- reframing certain emotions as normal rather than abnormal
- self-care and relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing and meditation
A person should contact a doctor if they:
- have emotions that are so intense that they hurt or lash out at others
- worry that they may have a physical health condition
- have symptoms of a mental health condition
- notice that self-care and home management strategies are not working
- notice that their mood or personality suddenly changes
- are thinking of hurting themselves
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Emotions, even intense ones, are common and normal.
As long as they do not undermine a person’s quality of life or cause them to harm themselves or others, there is no reason to worry about occasional intense emotions.
That said, prolonged emotional issues could signal an underlying health condition. If a person experiences this, they should seek professional medical advice.