Labile psychology definition

Mood Swings, Strong Feelings, and More

Written by Martin Taylor

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 23, 2021

In this Article

  • Labile Mood Symptoms
  • What Causes Emotional Lability?
  • How Do You Cope With Emotional Lability?
  • Can Mindfulness Help Emotional Lability?
  • Is There Treatment for Emotional Lability?

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

Labile Mood Symptoms

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. 

What Causes Emotional Lability?

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. 

How Do You Cope With Emotional Lability?

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

Can Mindfulness Help Emotional Lability?

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. 

Is There Treatment for 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. 

What Is A Labile Mood and How Do I Cope With It?

Pay close attention to your emotional responses or the people that surround you. Do you notice frequent mood swings or irregular emotional reactions? Are these responses somewhat an exaggerated reaction to a situation? 

If you notice this scenario on yourself or a loved one, this may be a sign of a labile mood or emotional lability. If you want to know more about labile mood, keep reading and you may know what the coping tips are.

What Does a Labile Mood Mean? 

Labile mood or emotional lability is a condition that causes uncontrollable crying or laughing at an improper time or situation. The definition of the word ‘labile‘ is “readily or continually undergoing chemical, physical, or biological change or breakdown“, in other words, unstable. It’s not a personality disorder, but it’s a possible symptom of a personality disorder.

This mood has other terms such as rapid emotional incontinence, emotional lability, emotional dysregulation, emotionalism, pathological crying and laughing, pseudobulbar affect, affective lability, or involuntary expression of emotions. 

It can often lead to harmful or self-destructive behaviors as manifested by aggression, screaming, angry tantrums, throwing objects, or violence towards others. But it doesn’t mean that a person with a labile mood can’t function well in their everyday life. There are coping mechanisms and treatments to control a labile mood. 

Is Labile a Mood or Affect?

Probably you’re wondering, ‘Is labile a mood or affect?’. Labile mood and labile affect are used interchangeably, and here’s why. The mood is a temporary feeling or state of mind, while affect is an outward expression of your emotional state.

As per the definition of the term ‘labile,’ it is both a combination of mood and affect. A person with a labile mood will cry out of nowhere, with no reason at all. That is why labile mood and labile affect are the same. 

What is Affective Lability?

There’s another common term heard most of the time: affective lability. Have you seen a person diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? ADHD and other anxiety disorders often have a change in mood out of nowhere during inappropriate times. You can witness that they are emotionally unstable or have erratic behavior at times. That is affective lability – a classification of affective disorders affecting the mood of a person with ADHD. 

What Causes Labile Moods?

When it comes to mental health conditions, there will always be a reason for the occurrence of these psychological diseases. The following include types of mental illnesses that cause mood swings or a symptom of an underlying disease. 

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): A mental illness involving a pattern of ongoing mood swings, impulsive actions, problems in relationships, and self-image disturbance.
  • Bipolar Disorder: According to the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that leads to frequent and unusual changes in mood, activity levels, level of concentration, energy, and performing tasks of daily living. 
  • Brain Injury: Stroke, blunt trauma, skull fracture, contusion, hematoma, brain swelling, oxygen deprivation to the brain, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, ALS.
  • External Factors: Too much stress, anxiety, too much noise or too many people, death of a loved one, traumatic experiences

As you notice the list, the labile mood might be a symptom of an underlying disease or a mental illness. But the big question is: Does emotional lability go away?

Does Mood Lability Go Away?

The good news is, mild cases of mood lability may not need therapy or treatment. But to manage your health, there are coping tips that can be done every day to avoid these types of episodes. Coping tips can be put to use so you can manage inappropriate mood or mood lability.

But what if it already causes stress or affects your activities of daily living? What if there’s aggression or violence already involved? Something has to be done before it’s too late, and that is why there are medications and interventions available. Without intervention, this can worsen the conditions and may induce clinical disorders.

Also, when mood lability is one of the symptoms of an underlying disease or mental illness, the treatment must be approached differently. The symptoms need to be addressed first, so the mood swings may be managed properly. 

How Do You Deal With Emotional Lability?

For some, it is frustrating to deal with emotional lability. There may be situations where you might feel awkward in participating in social gatherings, or you may be too conscious of being around other people. You may also be afraid that other people won’t understand your condition. These are common emotions you experience. However, if an emotion leads you to process other emotions like anger, it’s important to be aware. What experiences make you show inappropriate behavior? How often is that response elicited?

When you can’t make yourself calm, that can often be an example of unstable emotions. Do not let emotional lability affect your relationships and living your everyday life. There’s always a way to deal with this. A healthcare provider will most probably prescribe mood stabilizers or antidepressant medications to manage emotional lability. Some emotions can be managed through therapy, meditation, and other psychology-related techniques.

Mood stabilizers are medications that can manage mood swings and prevent depressive or manic episodes—examples such as carbamazepine, divalproex sodium, lamotrigine, lithium, or valproic acid. To reduce the intensity of emotional outbursts and mood changes, low doses of antidepressants are most likely to be prescribed.

How to Cope With Mood Lability?

The next time you catch yourself in a tricky situation, and you’re aware of your mood lability tendencies, take a step back, and remember these coping tips. 

  • Pause and take a break: Sometimes, all you need is to step back and calm yourself. Take a break, take a walk, distance yourself, breathe, and pause for a while. You need to manage yourself in social situations that will cause your stress. 
  • Breathing Techniques: The wonders of breathing techniques will always keep you in awe. If you focus on your breath and practice slow breathing, you will find yourself calmer, reducing tendencies of a labile mood. 
  • Be aware of what triggers the intense mood swings: Sometimes, the ultimate secret to prevent mood swings is to prevent situations or circumstances that trigger them. Figure out what triggers your mood swings and prevent it as much as you can. Your response is a key to help you manage your emotions.
  • Find a distraction: If you can’t prevent your mood swings’ triggering factors, you can always find a distraction. Maybe you can change activity or count your breath. 
  • Be Positive: Do not overthink your mood swings and stop dwelling in the past. Develop a positive mindset that you can overcome your mood swings.
  • Explain to others your situation: Sometimes, all you need is a brief explanation so other people can understand your situation. You can say like “After my stroke, I giggle at times. If you see me do it, just ignore it,” That simple! They will understand. 

How Can Counseling Help Your Labile Mood?

One of the most important interventions for mood lability is counseling. During counseling, a mental health professional helps you figure out how and why this happened to you. 

Then you may be able to figure out what triggers your labile mood, how you can avoid it, and how you can deal with it. There’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help. Seeking help is the first step to finding a better you. 

Emotional lability in children and adults

Emotional lability is mood instability. It occurs after stress, shocks, experiences and other significant events. This phenomenon is characterized by certain symptoms, signs and treatments.

Human emotional lability is a pathology that is important to monitor and treat. An advanced stage can provoke the formation of more serious diseases.

The very word "lability" means mobility and instability. Simply put, the emotions of a particular person are changeable, rushing from one extreme to another, irritating not only the nervous system, but also those around them. In physiology, the term is used to refer to the mobility of cells and tissues, their response to a stimulus. nine0003

In psychiatry and psychology, emotional lability is a property of the psyche to respond with an inadequately expressed affect to an external event. For example, a person with a healthy psyche will calmly react to spilled coffee, and an "unhealthy" person can get very angry.

Increased emotional lability is indicative of the central manifestation of personality disorder disease, and is also a symptom of vascular diseases of the brain and endocrine diseases. Experts note that the elderly and children are most susceptible to this phenomenon. nine0003

Emotional lability syndrome in children is associated with the knowledge of the world. Toddlers under 5 actively explore everything around: from the sand under their feet to the contents of upholstered furniture. Their reaction may be inappropriately vivid to the unexpected results of "research". For example, a soft and fluffy cat suddenly bit or released its claws. For an adult, this situation will be normal, but the child will be frightened and begin to scream. In this case, increased lability does not indicate pathologies and disorders. nine0003

For adults with a healthy psyche, increased emotional lability is not typical. Its signs speak of disorders in the body. The most common cause of pathology is stress.

Inadequate expression of emotions is characteristic of many people. Increased emotional lability, which manifests itself regularly, requires the intervention of a specialist and correction. Unfortunately, people often ignore such problems and prefer to call the disease a special character trait. nine0003

Unstable emotionality can flare up suddenly, be expressed in an inadequate attitude to certain events, and just as suddenly disappear. Short-term stress has such an effect on the nervous system. At the same time, similar cases do not signal serious mental health problems.

Disorder of expressiveness of emotions is formed due to the following reasons:

  • prolonged stress;
  • a situation that traumatizes the psyche; nine0026
  • endocrine imbalance;
  • vascular and neurological diseases;
  • mental disorders.

Prolonged stress is the most common cause of increased emotional lability. In critical conditions, the body experiences difficulties with an adequate assessment of the situation, as a result of which intolerance to certain events arises.

A situation that traumatizes the psyche can knock out any person from the usual way of life. This may be the death of a loved one, a sudden change of residence, a failure in personal life. Any event that is important to a particular person. nine0003

Endocrine imbalance, mental disorders, vascular and neurological diseases are problems in the body that require treatment. A pronounced emotional lability indicates that it is time to see a doctor and check your health.

The concept of emotional lability in adults consists of a definition and symptoms. Timely detection of signs of the disease will solve problems at an early stage of development and avoid great difficulties in the future. nine0003

Emotional lability: what is it in adults? Pathology is accompanied by symptoms, which can determine the presence of problems.
The very definition of the term suggests that emotional instability is expressed in the symptomatology. This is manifested in an inadequate reaction to familiar events.

Most often, people with the syndrome react sensitively to touching films and books, emotional conversations, small children and animals. They often cry, while they themselves cannot explain why. Yes, kittens and puppies are cute, but not to tears. nine0003

Aggression and auto-aggression also take place. In most cases, they flare up abruptly and subside just as abruptly. This symptom is considered a defensive reaction when people try to hide their problems. An unobtrusive question about well-being or mood can lead to inadequate screaming and attempts to avoid answering.

Frequent mood swings are a prominent symptom. A person can enthusiastically play a game for 20 minutes, and in a minute decide that all this is nonsense and a waste of time. May be interested in studying the repertoire of the cinema and planning a visit to the session, and later quit this business and burst into tears. nine0003

The next symptom is expressed in passion for work. For example, the constant search for a new hobby and the rapid loss of interest indicate emotional lability. Immersion in the study of the history of Ancient China, a quick change from this hobby to cross-stitching, and then to football - all these are symptoms of pathology.

Let's single out the main symptoms of emotional lability syndrome:

  • frequent mood swings;
  • immoderate passion; nine0026
  • aggression;
  • auto-aggression;
  • increased tearfulness.

All these symptoms are characteristic of each person at different periods of life. If you notice them, you do not need to immediately sound the alarm. It is worth thinking about help when they are expressed quite clearly and are repeated regularly.

Pathology in the form of emotional lability is of two types:

  • border;
  • impulsive.
  • nine0035

    Borderline type is expressed in apathy, frustration, indifference. A person subject to this type of lability expresses emotions weakly and inactively. There may be increased anxiety and absent-mindedness.

    Impulsive type - the opposite of the borderline. People suffering from this type of pathology are characterized by a negative mood, anger, addiction to bad habits. Auto-aggression can result in suicidal tendencies, so it is important for such people to turn to specialists in a timely manner for help in solving problems. nine0003

    Any type of emotional lability is destructive to the nervous system and mental health, which affects all areas of a person's life.

    Inadequate manifestation of emotions is characteristic of people of different age categories. If in adults this is a pathology that requires correction, then does the same apply to children?

    First of all, it must be said that a person is exposed to stress at any age. An adult can control his emotional state, but it is more difficult for children. nine0003

    Adults influence the formation of the psyche and emotional state of the child. Peers also matter, but parents and other close people are more important. Children are stressed in equal measure from overprotectiveness and complete indifference from their parents. It is important to catch the balance that will allow the little person to grow into a healthy person.

    Regardless of upbringing, a child throws tantrums with screams and wallowing on the floor in the most inappropriate places. For the first time, he checks how adults will behave. If this situation is repeated regularly, the moment is lost. A small manipulator can play too much and get into the role so much that regular tantrums will lead to a constant tension of the nervous system, which results in emotional lability. nine0003

    Emotional lability: what is it in children - lack of education, pathology or specificity? The regular manifestation of symptoms signals a problem, and a one-time “action” is a simple test of the degree of what is permitted.

    As regards adolescents, the question remains open. During puberty and estrangement from parents, children experience a lot of stress due to changes in the body and appearance. In this regard, many of them face problems in communication, in choosing a hobby, in a strategy of behavior. The same algorithm works here: a regular and vivid manifestation of symptoms is a cry for help, rare manifestations are just a period of growing up. nine0003

    It does not matter who suffers from emotional lability - a child, an adult, a man, a woman, an elderly person. Anyone may need help, so it is important to apply correction methods and seek treatment from specialists.

    Emotional lability and its treatment is an important aspect in shaping the personality of children. Adults also need correction, since the pathology does not disappear on its own. Before starting work with the nervous system, it is necessary to establish the cause of the symptoms. nine0003

    If this is regular stress, you will have to find its root cause and try to eliminate it. If this is a disease of the cerebral cortex, endocrine or nervous system, therapy with a psychiatrist will be only a small part of the treatment program. In any case, it is worth undergoing an examination of the body and contacting a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

    Doctors prescribe special drugs for adults that can control the emotional state and suppress outbursts of anger, aggression, expressiveness. The treatment of children's syndrome is different. Most drugs are intended only for adult patients, but other methods of work are used with a child. nine0003

    To a greater extent, the correction of emotional lability in a child is influenced by parents. Adults should explain how to control emotions, deal with setbacks and overcome difficulties. It is upbringing that is capable of instilling self-control, calmness and adequacy in a child from early childhood.

    Prevention of emotional lability is implemented throughout life. It can be conditionally divided into 4 important stages:

    • child;
    • teenager; nine0026
    • adult;
    • elderly.

    Each life stage has its own characteristics. Tantrums and an unstable emotional state of the child are corrected by the patience and personal example of parents and other adults. Children are a mirror image of their parents, so you need to take care of yourself first of all.

    Adolescents are a special category, because development during this period is characterized by rebelliousness. There are exceptions, but rare. It is important to talk to teenagers who are prone to emotional swings as adults and try to understand them. Shouts, threats and punishments will not lead to positive results. And again - a personal example. When a teenager sees that a parent is calm, trusts his child and adequately perceives information, then he himself becomes the same. nine0003

    An adult must independently control himself and monitor outbursts of emotions. Ignoring the problem does not contribute to its solution, but only exacerbates the situation. Here it is important to listen to the opinions of loved ones. If they notice emotional instability, mood swings, and other symptoms, then you still need to watch yourself. In other words, for an adult, the prevention of emotional lability lies for the most part in self-control.

    nine0002 Older people are more likely to suffer from mental illness, such as senile dementia. Prevention for this category of people should be a continuation of work on oneself. Tracking your emotional state will help you avoid serious problems in the future, so you need to avoid stressful situations and take care of your nervous system.

    Human life is filled with stressful situations, problems and difficulties. Everyone has to overcome these difficulties, but not everyone can adequately perceive them. If from childhood a person gets used to the fact that all problems are solved by parents, in adulthood it will be quite difficult for her to cope with them on her own. nine0003

    Emotional lability syndrome is familiar to most people. If you learn to control emotions, adequately assess difficulties, measure ambitions and opportunities, life becomes much easier.

    Emotional lability is a deep field of knowledge in psychology. Specialists are constantly conducting research, studying the symptoms and methods of correction, developing treatment. The phenomenon affects both the physical condition of a person and his mental health.

    nine0002 Prevention of emotional lability for the most part consists in reflection and self-control. It is important to remember that the main ally of a person is himself.

    Sincerely, Department of psychological support and career guidance PSU

    Dormitory №7 room 77, 81

    Working tel.: 053379567

    Mental lability

    Mental lability is the rate of excitation cycles in the nervous system. Increased emotionality and impressionability are characteristic of people with a labile psyche. The concept itself characterizes the psychological state of a person as extremely unstable and changeable. People of creative professions often have a similar feature: actors, artists, singers, writers. All feelings, whether love or hate, are experienced very deeply, but the duration of these sensations is not so great. nine0003

    In psychology, high lability determines the temperament, which is referred to as the choleric type. He is characterized by increased excitability and frequent mood swings. But there are pluses in this - there will not be a trace of a depressive state in the near future. Cholerics find it difficult to contain their emotions. They are whiny, touchy and often prone to aggression.

    Emotionally unstable personality disorder is expressed in mood lability. Its instability and frequent change sometimes gives a person inconvenience and discomfort. Sudden changes in depressive and joyful states “exhaust” energetically and alarm the people around. Endowed with such a feature, as a rule, it is difficult to resist difficult life situations, they often give up and retreat, due to their weakness. Emotional lability increases in situations where a person needs to make an important decision, show willpower and restraint, and overcome doubts and fears. Getting out of the “comfort zone” provokes this violation. nine0003

    What is the danger of lability problems?

    One of the serious disorders is a violation of the thought process. Lability of thinking is a series of making adequate and inadequate decisions by a person. It manifests itself in those suffering from depressive psychosis in the manic phase of the disease. People with this disease speak very loudly and continuously, they are characterized by hysterical laughter and peculiar humor. They accompany their speech with pronounced facial expressions and gestures. Pronunciation of individual words, inconsistency of speech, instability and low concentration of attention are also symptoms of this disease. nine0003

    Social lability manifests itself in fear of relationships, accompanied by a complex process of social adaptation of the individual. Fear of any social contacts, public speaking and other problems with others significantly complicate life. The solution to this problem requires the mandatory intervention of specialists and individually selected treatment.

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