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 exaggerated reactions to a situation?

Have you ever heard of the statement; “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.

This is where labile mood comes in. Labile mood is associated with emotional lability. If you notice this scenario in 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 Is Emotional Lability?

Emotional Lability: Labile Mood - Healthsoothe

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.

And Labile mood is a type of emotional lability that is characterized by uncontrollable laughing, excessive crying, heightened irritability, and moody temper.1


Labile Mood – What is it?

Labile Mood - Healthsoothe

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.

A labile mood is characterized by emotions that shift quickly, drastically, and uncontrollably. Labile mood is typically associated with an underlying health condition. It can be a symptom of a mental health condition, or it can occur with conditions that affect the brain.

Labile mood can often lead to harmful or self-destructive behaviors as manifested by aggression, screaming, angry tantrums, throwing objects, or violence toward others2 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.

Other names for labile mood include the following:

  • Emotional lability
  • Labile affect
  • Emotional incontinence
  • Pathological laughing and crying
  • Pseudobulbar affect (PBA)
  • Involuntary emotional expression disorder (IEED)

Watch the video below to know more about labile mood:



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
  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Being easily distracted
  • Interrupting people and putting oneself in situations one hasn’t been invited into
  • Physical restlessness and fidgeting
  • Crying (without a specific cause)
  • Inappropriate behavior for the situation (such as laughing at a funeral)
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Overreaction to situations
  • 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 – Labile Mood?

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.

People with certain neurological conditions and those with brain injuries can develop a specific type of mood lability called pseudobulbar affect (PBA). These medical conditions affect the way the brain controls emotion, which leads to unpredictable outbursts of laughing or crying.

These conditions include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Mood lability can also occur with certain mental health and medical conditions, though mood changes are not as sudden or inappropriate to the situation (like laughing uncontrollably in a serious setting). Mental health causes of labile moods include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders

Medications That Can Cause Labile Mood

Medications that may have mood lability as a side effect include oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and some antidepressants.


Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Labile Mood?

Mental health conditions that cause labile mood are diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This clinical handbook gives mental health professionals specific criteria for determining whether or not a mental health condition is present.

Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is diagnosed using history, mental status examinations, and neurological testing. Sometimes standardized questionnaires and scales are used. Certain criteria that might support the diagnosis of PBA include:

  • Emotional outbursts that are unrelated to the current situation.
  • Emotions being expressed do not reflect how the person is actually feeling.
  • Emotional episodes follow a pattern of ramping up, then slowly decreasing.
  • Episodes cause significant distress and interfere with daily functioning.


Is There Treatment for Labile Mood?

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.

Labile mood that is not severe might not require treatment. However, for many people, symptoms significantly interfere with daily life. Treatment for labile mood can include medications and therapy.


Medications are generally targeted to any underlying condition that might be contributing to mood lability. Mood stabilizers are used for mood lability related to bipolar disorders.

Antidepressants are one type of medication used to treat mood lability related to depressive and anxiety disorders. These medications change levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that help manage emotions.

Commonly prescribed medications include Remeron (mirtazapine), Wellbutrin (bupropion), and Luvox (fluvoxamine). Pseudobulbar affect is treated with a medication called Nuedexta (dextromethorphan-quinidine), which reduces symptoms of mood lability.


Psychotherapy is very beneficial for people who live with mood lability related to a mental illness. Two types of therapy that are used include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on helping a person change their negative thought patterns and behaviors that can contribute to mood shifts.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a specific type of therapy that uses a combination of mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation skills to help manage certain conditions that contribute to mood lability—particularly certain personality disorders

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.


How Do You Cope with Emotional Lability – Labile Mood?

Several coping techniques can improve the quality of life for a person with mood lability.3 These include:

  • Telling others what to expect: Discussing your condition with the people around you can reduce the element of surprise that can occur with sudden mood changes.
  • Changing your focus: Focusing on your uncontrollable symptoms can make them worse. Distracting yourself with another activity can help.
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers (when possible): Certain situations can make emotional swings more likely when you have a labile mood. These can include fatigue, feeling stressed or anxious, funny or sad movies/books/situations, public speaking, and talking about stressful events.
  • Walking away: A change in environment can help you regain control of your emotions during a mood shift.

Coping with emotional lability like labile mood 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 other ways that you can deal with labile mood:

  • 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:
  1. Relaxing and engaging in breathing exercises
  2. Distracting yourself by thinking of a peaceful image or picture
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Having a cold drink‌

Can Mindfulness Help Labile Mood?

Some studies have shown the benefits of a mindfulness-based intervention for emotional lability. These practices help promote non-judgmental 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.


Complications and Risk Factors Associated with Labile Mood

People whose mood changes are caused by mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are at risk for suicide.


The Summary

Labile mood refers to unpredictable, uncontrollable, and rapid shifts in emotions. This is most commonly caused by mental health conditions, such as bipolar and personality disorders, and medical conditions that affect the parts of the brain that control emotions.

Labile mood causes uncontrollable laughter, crying, irritability, and other emotional overreactions. Treatment includes medication and therapy.

Living with mood lability can make a person feel shame or embarrassment. If someone you care about is living with this condition, understand that the behavior is out of their control. When mood shifts occur, provide support without making a big deal over the outburst.

If you are personally living with mood lability, know that you are not alone. Being open with family and friends about your condition can help draw less attention to your mood shifts when they do occur.

Talk to a therapist about ways to cope with your symptoms and improve your quality of life. For additional support and resources, consider joining a support group.

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