Do you find yourself experiencing emotions more deeply and intensely than those around you? Perhaps you’ve been told you’re “too sensitive” or “too emotional.” For some people who feel emotions more fiercely than others, their brain might be processing information differently.
Some people’s brains can reflect on a deeper level, which might even make it seem as if they’re exceptionally perceptive. The other side of the coin is that often, those who are deeply emotional may also be easily overwhelmed by the constant wave of feelings and overstimulation they experience.
For the 15 to 20 percent of the population who are classified as what’s known as highly sensitive people, there are other contributing factors that are likely to play a role, like grief, life situations, or even a mental health condition.
What Makes an Emotion?
To better know what makes our emotions feel so powerful, it’s important to understand how psychologists actually define the term. There are two main types of emotions:
- Basic emotions: The fundamental emotions we all experience are really just evolved responses to the environmental factors surrounding us. Anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise are considered by some experts to be the foundational emotions of the human experience. We’re essentially hardwired with these emotions, and our responses are triggered automatically.
- Complex emotions: More complex emotions, like frustration, humility, and nostalgia, on the other hand, are a combination of our basic emotions with some additional thinking.
Frustration, for example, may stem from anger combined with thinking there’s no hope or any way out of a situation. The key in these instances is to understand just how powerful our thinking can be. We need to realize that we can control our responses to external experiences, even if we feel that our emotions are uncontrollable.
If you’ve ever wondered ‘why am I so emotional,’ your brain might be processing and reflecting information in a powerful way. While your behavior may be labeled as too sensitive, too caring, or too attentive, it can also be seen in a positive manner. Highly emotional people can be exceptionally perceptive, intuitive, and hyper-observant.
Still, when life gets chaotic, many people who have high emotional intelligence can often become over-stimulated and overwhelmed. They can feel like they’re constantly bombarded with social nuances and energy.
Causes of Heightened Emotion
Remember that emotions in and of themselves are not only normal, but also necessary. You can’t go through life void of all emotion. It’s just not possible.
So why are we sometimes so much more emotional? Why do we sometimes feel out of control?
There are a number of reasons why we may be extra emotional at times — and they typically fall into 1 of 3 categories: most common, situational, or health-related.
1. Genetics: Genetics can play a huge role in why someone may be more emotional than what they think is “normal.” While social influences and environmental factors can contribute to overall mood, past studies suggest that emotion is indeed influenced greatly by genetics. Particularly if there’s a family history of a mood disorder, like major depressive disorder (MDD), you may be at higher risk for being highly emotional as well.
2. You’re human, and humans feel: Humans and emotions go hand-in-hand. On any given day, we all feel and experience a myriad of emotions. So if one day you’re a bit extra emotional, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. That said, if your emotions are beginning to interfere with your daily functioning, it might be time to seek help or dig a little deeper into why you’re so emotional.
3. Lack of exercise: Research consistently demonstrates that getting enough exercise can directly influence the type of mood you’re in. Studies show that aerobic exercise, where your heart rate is up, can have a direct impact on how easily you’re able to regulate your emotions.
4. Lack of sleep: Staying up late and enjoying a night out can be fun, but when done too frequently, it can interrupt your body’s ability to function normally. Lack of sleep can cause increased irritability and an inability to focus. Whenever possible, try to get 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night, and go to bed early when you can. This will help you avoid sleep deprivation affecting your mental health.
5. Poor diet: What we put in our bodies can have a huge impact on our mood. When you eat something rewarding, for example, your body releases endorphins through the brain’s pleasure center, making you feel good. Keep in mind that what you also eat has the power to make you feel bad. Most of the time, improving your eating habits with healthier meals and snacks can impact your mood and help you feel better.
6. You’re simply more sensitive than others: Just like no two people are the same, it can also be said that no two people run the same gamut of emotions. The truth is, some people simply experience more emotional sensitivity than others. Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) affects an estimated 20% of the population. SPS is a personality trait that causes you to process your world more intensely and deeply. Everything from your own mood to the moods and feelings of those around you can have an intense impact on your emotions.
1. Major life changes: Major life changes can cause major life stress. The most stressful things we go through in life include marriage, divorce, finding or losing a job, moving, and having children. Of course, while these are the big-ticket life changes, something monumental doesn’t always have to happen in order for us to feel extreme or intense emotion. Most often, if your emotions are related to a major life change, as soon as the dust settles, you’ll find that your emotions settle, too.
2. High-stress environments or situations: If you’re experiencing more stress than usual, it can manifest physically. You might get headaches or migraines, or feel tension throughout your body. You may also feel emotional stress through anxiety, sadness, or anger. To cope with the emotional distress, take the time to identify key stressors in your life — Is it work? Family? Your relationship? Then, get to work trying to manage that stress. You can try breathing exercises, meditation, physical activity, or a host of other ways to find peace in your life.
3. Trauma: Unfortunately, difficult moments in life can ignite feelings that wouldn’t be experienced otherwise. Trauma might be ultimately from the death of a loved one. But it can also be the result of an accident, job loss, or serious illness, among other things.
Trauma can lead to a flood of emotions not normally present. Understanding how to navigate the stages of grief can help you recover from many types of trauma.
4. Grief: Grief rarely happens the same way twice. Unfortunately, it’s pretty given that we’ll all at one time or another grieve somebody or something in our life. While most people associate grief with death, in reality, we can grieve any loss in life, not just people. Losing a job or going through a breakup are two common reasons why people might grieve. It’s natural for grief to bring on emotions.
The most important things to know about grief are that it won’t be on a timeline, and it has no playbook. However, if your grief begins to interfere in your life, you might want to talk to somebody about getting grief therapy to help you come out the other side.
1. Hormones: As you move through different stages of life, your body will change and evolve. For women, this can include the fluctuation of certain hormones, like a drop in estrogen or hormonal changes due to pregnancy. For men, it can stem from changing testosterone levels that impact mood.
If your mood is inconsistent and you’re concerned it might be due to hormonal changes, you may want to think about getting tested by your doctor to figure out how to best address the issue. Hormone imbalances that affect your mood and emotions can be due to multiple reasons, including:
- Thyroid issues
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD)
- Adrenal gland imbalances
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Birth control
2. Anxiety: Anxiety is a normal part of life — it’s actually a natural stress response to alert us of danger or perceived threats we may encounter. However, anxiety can cause heightened emotions that may become intrusive in your daily life. If you’re noticing that your anxiety has increased, or that it’s been making you more emotional in recent days or weeks, this may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Sometimes, the only way to truly know the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety is to seek professional help from a therapist or doctor. Some research shows that people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) tend to have more intense emotions.
3. Depression: Eighty percent of individuals who have depression never seek treatment. This is because many don’t realize their depression is impacting their emotional health. Coupled with other intense feelings, depression can worsen your despair, longing, and loneliness.
4. Personality disorders: Personality disorders — like borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — often have a trait known as emotional dysregulation. This means you may become more emotional than others around you.
5. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes hyperactivity and impulsive, virtually uncontrollable behaviors. Those affected by ADHD may have a hard time focusing. A less commonly known symptom of ADHD, however, is a heightened sense of emotion. Sometimes people with ADHD can become overly frustrated because they’re distracted, resulting in anger and irritation that interferes with their life.
Emotions Can Be Healthy to Feel
Despite the plethora of information we’ve given you today, it’s really important to keep in mind that emotions can be healthy. They’re unavoidable, and knowing that it’s OK to express them is just as important as being able to recognize if they’re affecting you in a negative way.
How to Cope With Your Emotions
Regardless of whether or not your emotions are in the normal range, or if they’re heightened for one reason or another, there are several ways you can learn to cope. Yes, emotions can be healthy, but they shouldn’t interfere with your life.
Ultimately, knowing how to process your emotions in a healthy way is key. This skill can teach you how to address and accept emotions rather than to avoid or ignore them. Learn how to cope with your emotions in the following ways:
- Accept them — Everyone has emotions. Don’t fight them. Avoidance can lead to bigger problems down the road. Notice if your emotions are manifesting as physical symptoms. Does your jaw ache? Are you having a stomachache more often than normal? These can be related to your emotions.
- Name them — Understanding what you’re feeling can help you process your emotions. And remember: you are not your emotions. You may feel mad, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an angry person.
- Remember that emotions are temporary — Emotions fade, they change, and they can come and go. No emotion lasts forever. Reminding yourself of this might help.
- Dig in to find the root cause — Why do you have the emotions you do? If you’re angry about something, and the cause is something you can change, then consider it! Does interacting with someone in your life make you upset? Does the relationship serve you in any other ways, or can you let it go in the best interest of your emotional wellbeing?
- Give up control — Or, at least understand what you can and cannot control. From there, you can focus on your emotional responses to things. Just because you can’t change what’s happening in your life doesn’t mean you can’t control how you react to situations.
- Use meditation or find a mantra — Meditation, or repeating a mantra, can help you stabilize your mood regardless of what emotions you’re experiencing. Deep breathing is a great way to slow your heart rate, let you reset, and think about how your emotions are affecting you.
- Therapy — If you’ve ever wondered: why am I so emotional or felt like your emotions are unhealthy to the point that you’re unable to function, there is help. A therapy technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven wildly effective in helping people learn how to manage and control their emotions. Mentalization therapy is another therapy approach that can help someone gain a deeper understanding of emotions in both themselves & others.
Working with a therapist and using CBT techniques can be the first steps you take in identifying dysfunctional emotions and learning emotional regulation. Then, you can transform those into healthier, more productive ways of navigating your world around emotional triggers.
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