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If you’re feeling consumed by your emotions, this brief guide might help you discover and fix the underlying issues in a healthy, productive and sustainable way.

Emotions are the foundation of the human experience. You can’t get through life without them, and you can’t selectively numb unpleasant emotions or amplify pleasant emotions. The full spectrum, from fear to sadness, to happiness and joy, add color to life. At the same time, part of maturing as an adult requires the ability to emotionally regulate, to avoid being swayed by heightened emotions, and to respond, not react.

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If you are struggling to regulate your inner world, you may find yourself asking: why am I so emotional? Although the answer is unique to you — each of us has a particular emotional landscape or emotional intensity — there are certain things to consider, in order to work out whether your emotions are healthy, or point to underlying issues that need to be addressed.

What Is Your Emotional Baseline?

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Western society has an unhealthy relationship with emotions. We aren’t taught how to regulate or understand our emotions at school. And despite the best efforts to raise awareness of the value of emotional intelligence, promoted by wellness and mindfulness movements, rates of depression and anxiety are soaring. This is a crucial starting point, because the conventional stance of sucking it up and getting on with it, is one of emotional suppression.

According to Greater Good Magazine: “Emotional suppression might decrease outward expressions of emotion but not the inner emotional experience. In other words, suppression doesn’t make the emotion go away, it just stays inside you causing more pain.” This is significant; if you question why you’re so emotional, you may actually have a healthy relationship with emotions. Feeling overly emotional is dependent on the cultural context of what too much or too little emotion is.

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A better solution is to learn your emotional baseline. Some feel more than others, and that’s okay, particularly highly sensitive people (HSPs) or empaths. Discerning if you’re overly emotional will depend on your baseline, which in itself will fluctuate. Emotions are ever-changing and transitory, and, like the weather, some days you may notice more sadness, others more peace, others more frustration, others more relaxation, etc. 

Get an idea of your emotional landscape across all seasons. You may consider starting a mood journal, which will support you in this process. It can be surprisingly difficult to remember how you’ve felt throughout a day, let alone a week or longer. Take a few minutes each day to note your prominent emotions and accompanying thoughts, to get a clearer picture over time.

What Causes Heightened Emotions?

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Once you get an idea of your emotional ups and downs, the next step is to discern if you are overly emotional. Experiencing mood swings, where you move rapidly from one emotion to another, cry for no reason, or experience heightened sensitivity, all point to potential underlying causes. Start by considering your current circumstances; are there any triggers or events that may be weighing heavy on your heart, such as the death of a loved one, a stressful change in lifestyle, or even a lack of sleep?

Occasional spells of heightened emotions are okay. Consistently heightened emotions, however, may point to issues with your physical or mental health, including hormonal imbalances, nutrition deficiencies, or mental health conditions such as depression. There could be other psychological factors, too. A lack of meaning or purpose, loneliness, or relationship issues, have been linked with depression. So if you’re exploring why negative emotions are overwhelming, it pays to view things holistically.

Suppression, which we touched upon above, is a potential cause for feeling overly emotional, too. What might appear like a sudden influx of negative emotions could have a historical root to experiences or feelings which were once suppressed. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, once wrote: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” If the arrival of emotions is unexpected, intense, or linked to past trauma, consider working through them with a professional.

How to Improve Emotional Regulation

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If you’re questioning why you’re so emotional, there’s a chance that your emotions are having an unwanted impact on your life. The answer is to start to improve your emotional regulation, again keeping in mind the holistic approach. Rather than isolating certain emotions, piece together an overview of your life in general, in a way that incorporates mind, body, and soul. Ask yourself the following:

  • Am I looking after my body? That includes avoiding a lack of sleep, a poor diet, or an excess of alcohol or other drugs. Make sure you get regular exercise. And if you notice issues, make sure you have a medical check-up. A healthy body contributes significantly to a healthy mind.
  • Am I connecting with my emotions? It can feel unusual to fully connect to emotions, especially for men, and this does take effort and practice. A mindfulness or meditation practice is one way to become more present and attentive to the waves of emotions.
  • Am I looking after my soul? That means doing things that are meaningful and important, those that make life worth living — quality time with friends and family, a connection to nature, expressing and living by certain values, and making sure you prioritize meaningful goals.

Emotional regulation requires acknowledging, validating, and accepting the emotions that move through you. You don’t have to do much other than be present to them, without judging them with thoughts such as “I’m too emotional” or “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Your emotional landscape, like the weather, has an intelligence of its own. The balance is not reacting emotionally, without denying those emotions. That alone can improve your mental health.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” holocaust survivor and founder of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl, famously wrote. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Embrace your emotions and your sensitivity. Avoid the desire to sanitize or numb, especially if other people tell you you’re too emotional.

Be moved by life, that’s what shows you’re alive and kicking. Know that sensitivity is a gift. But know that you are the emperor of your inner world. You may not choose your emotions, but you always have the freedom to choose your response.

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