Why Am I So Emotional? Decoding Your Feelings & Managing Intense Emotions

April 18, 2024

If you’re asking yourself ‘why am i so emotional,’ know that many factors contribute to this feeling. Genetics, environment, mental health, and even daily habits can all play a role. In this article, we cut through the noise to uncover the core reasons behind your emotional surges and offer evidence-based practices to help you harness and manage these emotions. Expect to gain a deeper understanding and actionable advice, leaving you equipped to navigate your feelings with confidence.

Key Takeaways

  • People's emotional intensity and sensitivity can differ greatly. This variation can be due to genetics, neurodiversity, environmental factors, and can also be influenced by if an individual is classified as being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
  • Heightened emotions can be triggered by stress, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, hormonal imbalances, and significant life events, affecting one’s emotional state and overall well-being.
  • Managing intense emotions can include strategies like mindfulness, regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and seeking professional help from therapists at practices like Resilience Lab.

Understanding Emotional Intensity

Welcome to the realm of emotional intensity - a place where emotions feel not merely experienced, but are profoundly felt, with a depth and strength that can sometimes be overwhelming. Emotional intensity refers to the power and depth of our emotional experiences. For some of us, this can mean experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions vividly and profoundly, including both positive feelings such as excitement and love, as well as negative emotions like sadness, pain, and distress.

However, emotional intensity varies greatly among people. It’s a personal experience, influenced by a multitude of factors, that exists on a spectrum. Genetics significantly contribute to emotional intensity, as they are believed to determine 40% to 60% of our temperament. Therefore, some of us are innately different in our emotional experiences and perceptions - a phenomenon described as ‘neurodiversity’. Therefore, should you frequently find yourself feeling unusually emotional, remember it’s not a flaw or weakness, but a part of your identity.

Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

Have you ever been told that you’re ‘too sensitive’ or ‘overly emotional’? If so, you might just be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Psychologist Elaine Aron coined the term in the 1990’s, using it to describe individuals who feel more deeply than most, and who tend to notice subtle and comprehensive details about their environment. Aron describes this as an innate trait (you’re either born highly sensitive, or not), and it is common and not a disorder. Her research builds on Carl Jung’s initial recognition of the role of sensitivity, and how it can significantly affect person’s mental health. The highly sensitive brain has increased activity in areas related to empathy, emotion, and reading social cues, causing deep processing of all information including emotions, thoughts, and sensory inputs.

Representing up to 20% of the population, HSPs may require downtime to recharge and prefer to avoid overly stimulating situations. With that said, 30% of HSPs are actually extroverts. Additionally, different cultures may value sensitivity differently. Overall, this trait is often misunderstood.

Emotional Sensitivity and Mental Health

While being highly sensitive can make life rich and meaningful, it can also pose challenges. High emotional sensitivity is significantly associated with higher rates of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Research suggests that about 29% of individuals who are highly sensitive experience abnormal levels of anxiety, and nearly 20% experience depression.

Negative childhood experiences are also associated with high sensory processing sensitivity and the ensuing affective disorders. Therefore, it becomes increasingly vital to understand and manage emotional sensitivity for the sake of our emotional well-being and mental health.

Common Causes of Heightened Emotions

Now that we’ve explored the concept of emotional intensity and sensitivity, let’s delve into the various factors that can cause heightened emotions. These can range from psychological factors like stress to physical ones like poor nutrition and sleep deprivation. Indeed, stress is a primary trigger for intense emotions, whether it be from daily pressures or significant life changes. Therefore, when you feel overly emotional, pause and reflect–could your diet be the culprit? Are you sleep-deprived? Or could it be stress from a major work project or life event?

While it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause of heightened emotions, understanding the potential triggers can be a crucial first step in managing them. With this knowledge, we can start making conscious lifestyle changes or seek professional help if needed, to improve our emotional well-being.

Sleep Deprivation

Ever noticed how a lack of sleep can leave you feeling extra emotional the next day? That’s because sleep deprivation can impair our emotional intelligence and cause an amplified negative emotional response. This is attributed to a hyperactive amygdala, a part of the brain crucial in emotion processing. Even just one night of poor sleep can have a pronounced impact on emotional regulation the following day.

Thus, enhancing sleep hygiene by establishing a consistent bedtime, cutting back on evening caffeine, and switching off devices before sleep can bolster emotional well-being and ensure you get enough sleep.

Poor Nutrition

Your diet can also play a significant role in your emotional health. A poor diet can increase negative emotions and negatively influence your mood.: Deficiencies in certain crucial nutrients can contribute to mood disturbances and increased irritability, including:

  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Exposure to specific environmental or dietary factors can negatively affect your mood, often resulting in disturbances and elevated levels of irritability. A high sugar intake can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels, potentially triggering mood swings, irritability, and other negative emotional states. So, the next time you’re feeling overly emotional, it might be worth taking a look at your plate.

Stress and Major Life Events

Stress, whether chronic or related to major life events, can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout, resulting in increased vulnerability to emotional reactions and negative emotional states. Major life transitions, relationship troubles, and workplace stress can provoke heightened anxiety and emotional intensity. Moreover, biological markers of stress, such as cortisol, are closely linked to experiences of anger and can affect emotional well-being.Therefore, effective stress management can significantly help in emotional regulation.

Hormonal Influences on Emotions

Our hormones also play a crucial role in our emotional states. Hormonal imbalances can lead to mood swings and a variety of emotional states, affecting individuals regardless of gender. Here are some examples of how hormones can affect our emotions:

  • Estrogens and dopamine in the brain promote feelings of happiness and motivation
  • Progesterone affects calmness and mental alertness
  • Low levels of testosterone can negatively impact mood

Thus, comprehending the influence of hormones on our emotions can aid us in managing our emotional well-being more effectively.

Hormonal Imbalances

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances, such as mood swings, can be accompanied by physical signs like weight gain and irregular periods. Factors like fatigue due to decreased thyroid levels and sleeplessness from reduced progesterone can further affect an individual’s emotional health. Moreover, alcohol consumption during periods of hormonal imbalance can exacerbate emotional well-being issues, potentially leading to heightened hormonal imbalances.Therefore, rectifying these imbalances can enhance our emotional well-being.

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Menstruation and Pregnancy

Hormonal fluctuations during menstruation and pregnancy can significantly affect emotional well-being. Common mood changes during these periods include crying spells, feelings of irritability, or sadness. Physical symptoms such as fatigue, cramping, headaches, back pain, and changes in appetite, largely attributed to hormonal fluctuations, can significantly affect emotional well-being during these periods, often leaving one feeling emotional.

Thus, comprehension of these hormonal changes and the development of coping skills can significantly aid in managing emotional fluctuations during menstruation and pregnancy.

Mental Health Conditions and Emotional Intensity

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, can significantly impact our emotional states and experiences. In fact, mood disorders affect approximately 9% of adults in the U.S. These disorders involve periods of extreme happiness, sadness, or both, along with anger and irritability, affecting an individual’s emotional experience. Thus, understanding these conditions can provide valuable insights into emotional intensity.

Furthermore, being aware of your mental health history can assist in pinpointing the start of emotional dysregulation, providing a benchmark to discern when emotions stray from an individual’s norm. If your emotions are persistently causing distress or negatively impacting your life, it could be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, and seeking professional help may be beneficial.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression is a serious mood disorder that impacts feelings, thoughts, and daily activities, often manifesting in a depressed mood or loss of interest. A major depressive episode can result in persistent sadness or hopelessness, sleep disturbances, and even thoughts of suicide, all of which can be considered as depressive symptoms.

Another common mental health condition, anxiety, often involves a whirlwind of emotions concerning concerns about the past and future. Individuals with depression may encounter emotional dullness or numbness, while those with anxiety may feel a persistent sense of worry or fear.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another condition that can significantly affect emotional processing. PTSD is characterized by:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Arousal
  • Emotional flashbacks associated with the traumatic event

Emotional numbing is a common experience among PTSD survivors, suggesting restrictions in emotional experience and abnormalities in emotional processing.Hence, comprehending and tackling PTSD symptoms is vital for successful emotional regulation.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is another condition that has a significant impact on emotional states. This condition causes extreme mood swings, cycling between emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), impacting sleep, energy, activity, and cognitive functions. These mood swings can occur rarely or many times a year, and some individuals may experience emotional symptoms in between episodes.Hence, comprehension and management of these mood swings are vital for those with bipolar disorder.

Strategies for Managing Intense Emotions

Managing intense emotions can often feel like a daunting task. However, with the right strategies, it is entirely possible to navigate this emotional whirlwind successfully. Here are some strategies to help you manage your emotions effectively:

  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Consult with a licensed mental health professional to decipher the root causes of intense emotions and receive guidance on coping mechanisms.

By adopting these approaches, you can master your emotions and navigate toward a more harmonious and rewarding existence.

Various practical tactics such as mindfulness, meditation, and engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly can reduce emotional intensity and improve emotional regulation. By employing these strategies, you can cultivate the ability to navigate your emotional highs and lows, leading to a more balanced and emotionally healthy existence.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness meditation has been found to be an effective tool in managing negative thoughts and reducing stress. By focusing on the present moment without judgment, mindfulness meditation aids in:

  • Managing negative thoughts that may trigger emotional dysregulation
  • Initiating a relaxation response through intentional breathing techniques
  • Lowering heart rate and blood pressure
  • Calming emotional responses

Adopting self-compassion and maintaining a gratitude journal can further nurture emotional well-being.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is another effective strategy for improving mood and contributing to better emotional regulation. Engaging in regular exercise is recommended as a way to maintain emotional balance and support mental health as a self-regulation technique. Some examples of aerobic exercises that have been proven to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression include:

  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Dancing

Therefore, making regular physical activity a part of your routine can significantly contribute to managing intense emotions and enhancing your mental health.

Seeking Professional Help

It’s important to remember that seeking professional help is a vital step in managing intense emotions. Therapy can lead to:

  • Learning effective coping strategies
  • Enhancing self-awareness and self-control
  • Improving relationships
  • Increasing overall life satisfaction

Collaborating with a therapist can be particularly beneficial when self-help techniques fall short in relieving symptoms. Therapists offer:

  • A non-judgmental environment
  • Specialized training in emotion suppression and cognitive reappraisal techniques
  • A personalized plan for emotional regulation

Reach out to a therapist at Resilience Lab to receive a personalized approach that is customized to your needs.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis and needs immediate help, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Clinically Reviewed by Christine Carville, LCSW-R.

Christine Carville, LCSW-R, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Resilience Lab. Christine developed the Resilience Methodology, a trans-theoretical training model for therapists to provide individualized, flexible, trauma-informed care. She has also been teaching at the Columbia School of Social Work since 2016 and continues to maintain her own private psychotherapy practice.

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