What Is Emotional Lability?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 23, 2021
3 min read

Emotional lability is characterized by rapid exaggerated changes in mood. You’ll feel strong emotions and feel like you can’t control your behavior and feelings. You will express your emotions more dramatically than usual. Labile mood symptoms include: 

  • Uncontrollable laughing
  • Excessive crying
  • Heightened irritability
  • Moody temper

According to the DSM diagnostic criteria, affective lability and emotional dysregulation have overlapping symptoms. Affective lability is tied to bipolar disorder, whereas emotional dysregulation is connected to ADHD. Labile mood symptoms include: 

  • Excessive talking
  • Being easily distracted
  • Interrupting people and putting oneself in situations one hasn’t been invited into 
  • Physical restlessness and fidgeting 
  • Racing thoughts
  • Trouble maintaining attention 

Labile mood symptoms are mostly unpredictable compared to your “normal” reactions. These mood swings can be very dramatic and entirely uncontrollable. It can be hard to tell you're in the middle of an episode because of the randomness of the symptoms. 

Emotional lability is typically a result of damage to your brain that controls your awareness of emotions, ability to control how your feelings are expressed, and intense emotional responses. 

Brain injury can cause the loss of emotional awareness. Having weaker emotional control and lower frustration tolerance can also cause extremes in your emotional feelings. You may not be as sensitive to others or your own emotions, which makes it harder to control your behavior. 

If you have emotional lability, you may have feelings come out of nowhere and overwhelm you. You may, for instance, start crying for an unknown reason. Emotional lability can also cause you to overreact to people or things happening around you. For example, you may become more emotional at a sad or funny movie. 

Coping with emotional lability will take time and patience. Understanding your triggers can help you know what to avoid and what will set you off. Triggers may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Fatigue and excessive tiredness
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Excess noise and stimulation
  • Feelings of being under pressure
  • Very sad or funny situations 
  • Certain topics of discussion
  • Deaths of loved ones
  • Public speaking

Here are some ways that you can deal with emotional lability:

Take a break. Building in breaks during your day can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. When you take a break, you can regain control of your feelings. Your break may be a few minutes or over an hour. It depends on how much time you need. You can take a break by going on a walk or coloring in an adult coloring book. Just do something that takes your mind away from your strong emotions. 

Ignore the behavior. Getting others not to acknowledge your emotional lability can also help you ignore the behavior. If you’re around someone with emotional lability, you should avoid laughing with the person experiencing it. Also, not bringing too much attention to these emotions and trying to change the topic or ignore the trigger may help.

Cognitive techniques. Using mental strategies can help you manage your emotional lability. You can discuss the proper techniques with your psychologist. Some of these strategies include: 

  • Relaxing and engaging in breathing exercises
  • Distracting yourself by thinking of a peaceful image or picture
  • Going for a walk
  • Having a cold drink

Some studies have shown benefits of mindfulness-based intervention for emotional lability. These practices help promote non-judgemental attention to your present situation. Practicing mindfulness can help you accept challenging circumstances or feelings. 

According to some studies, mindfulness seems to be more effective the longer you do it. Rather than getting the true effects in your first session, it takes practice, time, and consistency to see the full benefits. Practicing mindfulness can also help decrease your anxiety and emotional suppression that comes with emotional lability. 

Emotional lability is not a condition someone typically has their whole life. It is most often a disorder that’s developed following a brain injury, which may heal over time. Emotional lability typically comes with a lot of other changes, like the inability to work, drive, and maintain your previous quality of life. These sudden changes can make your emotional lability worse and may also lead to depression and anxiety. 

It’s best to seek extra support from a therapist or psychologist. You can talk to your doctor about emotional lability treatment. During these times, it’s best to surround yourself with a good support group. They’ll all be able to help you cope with the changes happening in your life.