Feeling heightened emotions or like you’re unable to control your emotions can come down to diet choices, genetics, or stress. It can also be due to an underlying health condition, such as a mood disorder or hormones.

A group of people having an emotional discussion.Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Emotions are typical, but sometimes after an outburst or a crying session, you may be wondering why you’re feeling so emotional.

Here you can learn the most common reasons for heightened emotions. Feeling strong emotions isn’t always bad, but there are things you can do to cope better if you need to.

1. You’re human

You may be feeling emotional today. But guess what? You’re allowed to be.

We all feel happy, sad, low, or exhilarated. Emotions are a typical part of who we are as humans. Everyone processes events and emotions differently.

You may just feel things a bit more than others; or, you might just be feeling extra sensitive today.

If someone tells you to be less emotional, they’re probably basing it on societal standards. Don’t let them put you down. Emotions aren’t weak. They’re human.

What you can do

Sometimes, your heightened emotions may negatively affect your day-to-day life, for example, in your relationships with family, friends, or colleagues.

In this case, speaking with a therapist or counselor can help you understand the reason behind your feelings and learn strategies to lower the impact of these emotions on your life.

In addition, Mental Health America recommends trying the following tips at your leisure:

  • Pause your actions. It may help to count to 100 or say the alphabet backward.
  • Acknowledge what you’re feeling.
  • Think through your feeling and the reasons behind them.
  • Determine what may make you feel better. This could be getting something to eat, doing a fun activity, or simply allowing yourself to cry.

2. Genetics

Some people truly are more sensitive than others. While emotions are typical, being naturally more emotional may actually have a genetic component. Research indicates that about 20% to 60% of your temperament can be determined by genetics.

A personality trait called sensory processing sensitivity is a quality where someone processes the world more deeply. This includes the moods and feelings of others, as well as pain and loud noises.

In a 2021 study comparing the levels of sensitivity within sets of adolescent twins, researchers found that 47% of the differences in sensitivity between the twins were genetic. This finding supports the idea that emotional sensitivity can be inherited. In cases when siblings present with different temperaments, this difference can also partly be determined by DNA.

What you can do

Research also shows that if you have a family member with an affective disorder such as major depression, you may also have a higher risk of experiencing one.

There’s very little you can do about your genetics. After all, you are who you are. For this reason, getting therapy if you’re experiencing distressing emotions and working on self-acceptance can be enormously helpful.

Different ways to approach this include:

Learn more on how to become the boss of your emotions.

3. Lack of sleep

Everyone knows what it’s like to wake up on the wrong side of the bed, so it’s not hard to imagine that a lack of sleep can affect your emotional well-being.

Sleep deprivation has several effects on your body, including:

  • trouble thinking and concentrating
  • higher risk of anxiety or depression
  • weakened immune system
  • poor balance and higher risk of accidents

It can affect your mood, too, especially the longer sleep deprivation occurs.

Studies have shown that sleep may be linked to emotional regulation, so getting less sleep may cause your emotions to seem out of whack.

Feeling more irritable or easier to anger is common when chronically sleep-deprived.

What you can do

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults sleep for at least 7 hours a night. Adolescents and children require 8 to 14 hours a night, depending on their age.

Strategies that can help you get better sleep include:

  • keeping a consistent bedtime
  • limiting bright lights in your bedroom
  • removing electronics from your bedroom
  • getting regular exercise
  • not smoking
  • limiting heavy meals, caffeine, or alcohol before bed

Learn more tips on how to sleep better.

4. Lack of exercise

We’ve all heard the physical health benefits of exercise, but exercise can also have a big effect on mood and emotions.

A 2018 study showed that regular physical exercise can contribute to better emotional regulation during stressful times.

Another 2017 study also showed that aerobic exercise had a therapeutic effect on regulating emotions.

What you can do

If you’re feeling extra emotional, jumping on a treadmill or going for a jog could help alleviate it.

According to the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition,” you should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week.

5. An unhealthy diet

Everything you eat affects your body, and a healthy diet can improve your overall well-being and mental health.

It may come down to your eating foods if you’re feeling emotional.

Research has found that eating an unhealthy diet can negatively influence your mood. In particular, foods that are high on the glycemic index, such as carbohydrates, may increase the incidence of depressive symptoms.

What you can do

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to completely avoid entire food groups. Eating a balanced diet is the best way to support both your physical and mental health.

In particular, you may wish to:

  • Make sure you’re consuming a nutrient-dense diet. Following a Mediterranean diet is one good way to make sure you’re getting the right amounts of all the nutrients you need.
  • Avoid processed, fatty, and fast foods.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Make sure you’re not lacking vital vitamins and minerals. Consult with a doctor to see if you’d benefit from dietary supplements.
Pro tip: Mix things up

Not getting varied enough, nutrient-dense foods can mean you’re relying too heavily on one area of the food pyramid. This will likely lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies that can affect your mood and health.

6. Stress

Stress can take a toll on our bodies. If you’re feeling stressed or burnt out, you’re likely going to feel a little emotional.

There are many reasons you may experience stress. For example, when major life events or big changes occur, you’re inevitably going to feel the stress — no matter how well you plan for it.

A 2018 study also revealed that living with high stress levels can increase negative emotions such as anger or depression.

In particular, the study showed that the more stress you feel, the more you tend to ruminate on what’s making you stressed, which in turn increases your negative emotions.

What you can do

Coping with stress or anxiety involves many of the same strategies you’d use to cope with any challenging emotion.

Speaking with a counselor, a supportive family member or a friend can help.

In addition, leading a healthy lifestyle, taking time to do activities you enjoy, and limiting the use of substances and alcohol can help you manage day-to-day stress.

Learn more on how to cope with anxiety.

7. Grief

Grief is a varied, complicated, and messy thing. Grieving the loss of someone is one of the hardest things that we all universally go through. So if you’re not feeling yourself, or your emotions don’t feel the same, that’s typical.

Grief doesn’t have to just be about losing a loved one. You can grieve for your past self, a child you never had, or even a breakup.

We all handle loss differently and go through the stages of grief at different times, and we may not come out on the other side the same.

What you can do

Everybody grieves differently, and this is OK. Sometimes part of the grieving process can be simply allowing yourself to experience the emotions of grief to release them. You can also try some of these strategies to help you cope:

  • Talk about your grief with a trusted person or counselor.
  • Spend time with people who share your loss like your family or friends.
  • Take care of your health by trying to eat healthfully and get adequate sleep.
  • Stick to a consistent schedule.

Learn more about coping with grief.

8. Mental health

There are a number of mental health conditions that can impact mood. They include:

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between stress and anxiety. Stress usually responds to something specific in your life and will go away. Anxiety is when you experience prolonged worry for no obvious external reason. In cases when anxiety is chronic, it can become an anxiety disorder, which can significantly impact your emotional regulation.

Another condition that may affect mood is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While difficulty focusing and trouble sitting still are the most well-known symptoms of ADHD, the disorder can also magnify your emotions. Research shows that emotional dysregulation is common among people living with ADHD, especially among children and adolescents.

What you can do

If you’re feeling emotional and believe that a mental health condition is a cause, it’s important to look for help. A doctor can evaluate you and provide you with an accurate diagnosis. This will help them determine the best treatment.

Depending on the type of condition, you may benefit from certain medications. There are numerous treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and feel a little more in control of your emotions.

In cases of trauma, it may be particularly difficult to heal on your own without any treatment.

Your treatment can include various types of therapy, such as CBT or psychotherapy for example. You may also benefit from taking medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

9. Hormones

Hormones have both physical and psychological effects on the body. Any hormonal imbalance or extra sensitivity to hormonal changes can cause a change in your emotions.

Estrogen

In people assigned female at birth, hormonal fluctuations relating to the reproductive cycle can cause shifts in mood and difficulty controlling intense emotions in some people.

This is evident during menopause, for example, when the fluctuation in estrogen levels during menopause can lead to higher levels of negative emotions such as anger or sadness.

This can also occur before menstruation in what’s known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, which is similar to PMS but includes more severe emotional symptoms.

There’s some evidence that using hormonal contraceptives can affect your emotions. Depression, anxiety, and anger were all found to be higher in people taking hormonal birth control.

Testosterone

The hormone testosterone also plays a role in male emotional regulation and can negatively affect mood.

Testosterone decreases with age, and medical conditions can cause a person to have low testosterone. These include genetic conditions such as hemochromatosis, an injury to the genitals, or cancer.

The female body also produces some testosterone. However, in some cases like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it produces too much, which disrupts typical hormone levels. This can also lead to shifts in mood.


Are sex and gender the same thing?

People often use the terms sex and gender interchangeably, but they have different meanings:

  • “Sex” refers to the physical characteristics that differentiate male, female, and intersex bodies.
  • “Gender” refers to a person’s identity and how they feel inside. Examples include man, woman, nonbinary, agender, bigender, genderfluid, pangender, and trans. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Other hormones

An imbalance of your thyroid hormones can affect your emotions, raising your risk of developing anxiety and depression.

In addition, certain stress hormones, such as oxytocin or cortisol, can affect mood, such as increased anger or emotional sensitivity. This is particularly true in cases of Cushing syndrome, which may be caused by a benign pituitary or adrenal tumor and can lead to excessive cortisol.

The adrenal gland’s imbalance of other hormones such as insulin may also affect your emotions and mood. This is known as adrenal insufficiency.

What you can do

The treatment for a problem with your hormones depends on the underlying cause and the type of hormone affected.

In many cases, a doctor will recommend a type of hormone therapy or hormone replacement. For some conditions, treatment with corticosteroids may be needed.

In case of a condition like Cushing, you may need surgery to remove the implicated gland. You may also need radiation or chemotherapy, even if the tumor is benign.

If you feel like your emotions are out of your control, or you believe it’s caused by an underlying health issue, see a healthcare professional. They can help you get to the root of the issue or refer you to a specialist.

Some strong or negative emotions are normal. However, if your feelings are causing you distress or having a negative impact on your life, you don’t have to simply accept them. Help is available.