7 General Reasons behind Emotional Disturbance

In general, the term emotional disturbance1 refers to disturbances in an individual’s mental equilibrium, leading to either feeling extremely emotional or emotionally numb.

It is the condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics below:

  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances
  • Inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms of fear2 related to personal or school problems
  • Inability to learn due to reasons unrelated to intellectual sensory or health factors.
  • An overall general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
emotional disturbance
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In children, these characteristics, especially if they continue over long periods of time, adversely affect a child’s educational performance that is not explained by intellectual, sensory constituents that might make them socially maladjusted.

If such a situation arises, the child may require special education. Adults who overlook such characteristics after a period of time can also become socially maladjusted3, and their behavior might become socially unacceptable.

Some factors cause serious emotional disturbances in children and adults. One should be aware of these factors so that identifying them can be easy, and then the reasons for disturbances can be addressed healthily.

Mental disorders are referenced through umbrella terms such as emotional and behavioral disorders, emotional disturbance, and mental illness. A range of conditions that often result in what can be expanded under the phrase ‘mental disorders, like:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder (or Manic Depressive illness)
  • Psychiatric Illnesses

1. Reasons behind Emotional Disturbance

The general reasons behind emotional disturbance are:

1.1. Diet

As the saying goes, good food creates a good mood. We know that what we eat affects our emotional or mental state. Most serious emotional disturbances might be caused if one does not have a well-balanced diet. And not to mention, eating disorders are extremely serious.

Certain food groups like fast and junk food and foods containing fatty acids might be difficult to digest, and it may lead you to feel uncomfortable, thus affecting your behavioral and emotional state. You should make sure that your diet is nutrient-rich since a deficiency of vitamins and nutrients can affect an individual through their mood and health. Try avoiding processed food and skipping meals.

1.2. Hormones

Hormones are chemical messengers in the human body. The effects of hormones on one’s body are both physical as well as psychological. Thus any hormonal or chemical imbalance or shift can cause emotional disturbance in any individual.

An imbalance in hormones produced by the thyroid glands can affect one’s emotions and increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression.  Due to premenstrual syndrome4 (PMS), the estrogens and progesterone fluctuate a week before and after their menstruation period causing abnormal mood swings and emotional disturbances.

emotional disturbance
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Estrogens particularly affect the intensity of emotions. Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder 5(PMDD) is similar to PMS but is a little intense and causes excessive fear, crying, irritability, anger, and sadness.

When individuals are on birth control or contraceptive pills, it can cause hormonal shifts too, leading to emotional changes, and the same happens with women during menopause. Imbalances in the levels of insulin or hormones produced by adrenal glands can also lead to fluctuation in emotions.

1.3. Mental Health Issues

Many mental health issues can cause emotional disturbance in an individual. Depression is a mood disorder that may cause individuals to experience more negative and sad emotions. Depressed people feel hopeless, anxious, and empty. The marked degree that adversely affects people, or to which individuals experience these emotions varies.

Anxiety disorders are yet another cause of emotional disturbance in individuals. Individuals suffering from anxiety disorders may experience irritability, increased tension, and physical symptoms or fears associated with personal issues, such as increased heart rate or palpitation.

emotional disturbance
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Personality Disorders are yet another reason for emotional disturbance in individuals. People who have personality disorders usually have two more different personalities, and such individuals suffer from mood swings, can not control their anger, and are hypersensitive to criticism or rejection.

Disorders under emotional disturbance include schizophrenia, which is yet another part of severe mental disorders, and individuals with this disorder who have negative symptoms might show a lack of pleasure or become emotionally numb.

1.4. Stress

Individuals experiencing stress may appear to be more emotional or have more mood swings than usual. Stress can cause emotional disturbance in individuals.

emotional disturbance
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It affects one’s already poor coping skills and leaves them feeling overwhelmed, making them experience great difficulty in dealing with minor stresses and causing irritability.

Long periods of stress can lead to burnout which might cause mood and emotional shifts in a person. Stress, if prolonged, can turn into chronic stress, which is not good for any individual. People under stress experience emotions more intensely. For example, one might cry or break down on very small and trivial things and later think about why they were even crying in the first place.

1.5. Trauma

When an individual experiences an event that causes physical, psychological, and emotional harm, they experience trauma as a response.

This is the most common reason behind the emotional disturbance in any individual. Individuals who witness or undergo any traumatic experience take time to accept it, and in that period, they are emotionally disturbed and experience a lot of mood swings.

emotional disturbance
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If the individual cannot cope with the trauma over a long period of time and it starts to affect their every day functioning a great deal, they may have developed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

Here the individual experiences flashbacks of the traumatic event followed by indifference, apathy, irritability, sudden outbursts of anger, and an inability to express their feelings. This might also lead to a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

1.6. Physical Health Issues

Physical health and mental health are interdependent. If there are any physical health issues, it might affect the individual’s mood or emotions. Physical factors greatly influence causing emotional disturbance because physical health problems can affect our daily functioning. People suffering from any pain usually tend to be moody and irritable.

emotional disturbance
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When one’s physical needs are not met, that can also cause emotional disturbance in individuals; for example, when one is hungry, one might become irritable until one gets food and their hunger is satisfied; it is also lack of sleep that causes moodiness in individuals because we need proper sleep to feel healthy and refreshed.

We should remember that since the body and mind are not separate entities, any changes in an individual’s physical state may affect their mental state and emotions, especially when their energy level to deal with the stress or the demands of a physical workload is low.

1.7. Gaslighting

Gaslighting means manipulating someone psychologically and making someone doubt their sanity. Gaslighting can cause severe emotional disturbance in individuals.

emotional disturbance
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When we dismiss someone who is extremely emotional, we are devaluing their experience and, in a way, devaluing the severity of the emotion that they are feeling. When we dismiss an individual’s emotion of any kind, they start to question their emotions’ validity, which might emotionally disturb that individual.

The above-given reasons or causes are just a few of the general reasons that cause emotional disturbances in individuals. There might be many other reasons that might be unique to any particular individual. One should not invalidate it because it is unique to them, and no one else experiences it.

2. Treatment for Emotional Disturbance

2.1. Counseling Sessions

If the characteristics given above are left unattended, they might affect the daily functioning of any individual and might take normality away from their lives. To avoid such a situation from arising, one might take counseling sessions, or if the characteristics of emotional disturbance are extreme, they might visit a psychiatrist or therapist.

2.2. Self-Care

At an individual level, one can deal with these disturbances by taking proper care of themselves, like eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising, and treating any physical injury.

emotional disturbance
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2.3. Other Things That Can Help with Emotional Disturbance

To manage their emotions, they can also start journaling, develop a self-care routine, try meditating, and focus on their breath to calm themselves. Any individual should never invalidate their emotions or feelings; one should always refrain from tagging their emotions as abnormal.

2.4. Supportive Family

Apart from external help that individuals should preferably take in such a situation and the care that they can do for themselves, the most important thing that one can and should get is support from their families and friends.

Families often find it hard to believe in serious emotional disturbance and are not aware of addressing it properly. If one’s near and dear ones are supportive and understanding, their journey toward betterment gets easier.

3. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

3.1. What exactly are the disorders that an individual might struggle with when we talk about emotional disturbance?

Mental illnesses like eating disorders (like anorexia nervosa/bulimia nervosa), obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, psychotic disorders, excessive anxiety, social anxiety disorder, conduct disorders, personality disorder, panic disorder, psychiatric disorders, mood disorders, social phobia, and other mental illnesses.

3.2. What other general problems do people face with emotional disturbance experience?

Below are some examples of problems people face with emotional disturbance:

  • Abnormal mood swings
  • self-injurious behavior,
  • obsessive thoughts,
  • depletion in educational performance,
  • faulty cognitive skills,
  • dramatic mood swings,
  • temper tantrums,
  • inappropriate crying,
  • not listening to peers and teachers (disruptive behavior),
  • unhappiness or depression,
  • self-starvation,
  • being prone to specific phobias,
  • extreme distress,
  • low self-esteem,
  • irrational fear,
  • abnormal thinking,
  • learning difficulties,
  • unwanted thoughts,
  • finding it hard to maintain friendships,
  • eating excessive amounts (severe changes in diet in general), and
  • coming off as seemingly uncontrollable

Edited by Pooja Motwani

Infographic That Explains 8 Physical Symptoms of Emotional Distress
Icy Health
  1. Cullinan, Douglas, and Edward J. Sabornie. “Characteristics of emotional disturbance in middle and high school students.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 12.3 (2004): 157-167. ↩︎
  2. Baker, Zachary G., Heather Krieger, and Angie S. LeRoy. “Fear of missing out: Relationships with depression, mindfulness, and physical symptoms.” Translational issues in psychological science 2.3 (2016): 275. ↩︎
  3. Center, David B. “Social maladjustment: An interpretation.” Behavioral Disorders 15.3 (1990): 141-148. ↩︎
  4. Dickerson, Lori M., Pamela J. Mazyck, and Melissa H. Hunter. “Premenstrual syndrome.” American family physician 67.8 (2003): 1743-1752. ↩︎
  5. Fornaro, M., and G. I. U. L. I. O. Perugi. “The impact of premenstrual dysphoric disorder among 92 bipolar patients.” European Psychiatry 25.8 (2010): 450-454. ↩︎

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