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Emotional lability: what is it and what are its symptoms?

Emotional lability: what is it and what are its symptoms?

July 18, 2024

If something characterizes the emotions is that they come and go without having, often, a specific cause that triggers them . For example, a person may feel sad at a time when everything seems to indicate that he should be happy, or the opposite may also be true.

To put it in some way, each person has a range of emotions that usually manifest in a way relatively independent of their context. Some tend to experience more emotions with joy, and others less. However, sometimes the variation of emotions can be very significant. In those cases we talk about emotional lability .

What is emotional lability?

The concept of emotional lability refers to a tendency to change quickly and abruptly in relation to emotional state .

When this psychological phenomenon occurs, emotions vary almost as if they follow the movement of a pendulum, although not necessarily with that regularity between periods.

Duration of mood swings

The emotional lability can be expressed in variations of the emotion that are noticed in a matter of hours, but it can also be the case that this change appears after several days of manifesting the same emotion or a sequence of emotions very similar to each other.

In the same way, Sudden changes in emotions can happen to each other for days until there comes a time when emotional lability returns to normal levels where there are no abrupt changes.

Emotional lability as a symptom

Emotional lability can become a useful propensity when dealing with problems from different points of view. In fact, a certain degree of emotional lability is present in almost all people, since they all have a range of habitual emotions.

However, in other cases it becomes so intense and sudden that beyond being a feature of the personality it can be, in itself, a type of symptom of a mental disorder .

The mental disorders in which emotional lability is more frequent are the following:

1. Major depression

In major depression you can go from phases of emotional flattening and anhedonia to others in which there is a deep sadness that is experienced very intensely. In these cases, mood swings can generate relational problems, especially when associated with intense outbreaks.

2. Bipolar disorder

It is a mood disorder characterized precisely by sudden changes in emotional states. Classically, episodes of mania are alternated in Bipolar Disorder, in which there is a feeling of euphoria and joy, and episodes of depression. In short, in this disorder emotional lability is one of the typical factors (whenever there is mania and depression.

3. Cyclothymia

Although emotional lability is the symptom par excellence of Bipolar Disorder, the milder version of it, Cyclothymia, also presents it as a symptom. In these cases, the symptoms are not as intense as in the rest of depressive disorders, these remain for a longer period.

The causes of emotional variation

When the emotional lability is very intense and interferes with the quality of life of the person , it is possible that it is a symptom of a mental disorder or a neurological disorder. Although the causes depend on each case, it is understood that the very intense emotional lability associated with psychological problems appears when the limbic system (located in the brain) begins to function abnormally.

Patients with epilepsy, for example, may develop emotional lability, since the attacks are born of an alteration in the overall functioning of the brain.


It must be clear that emotional lability is not in itself a mental disorder, but a symptom , and that is why it is not treated directly from psychological or psychiatric interventions. The sanitary measures that can reduce it go through a diagnosis of possible mental disorders.

When the causes do not have to do with a disorder of the diagnosed state of mind, the treatment will be more difficult to establish. In addition, the use of psychotropic drugs that can serve to reduce the intensity of phases of emotional lability is something that depends on the specialized medical personnel that leads each case.

Pseudobulbar Affect: An Emotional Mismatch (July 2024).

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