How to Manage Emotional Outbursts

Emotional outbursts are uncontrollable, sudden, and intense emotions—like extreme anger, rage, or frustration—that are disproportionate to the event causing the response.

Emotional outbursts can mentally and emotionally distress the person experiencing them due to an inability to manage their emotions. It can also damage interpersonal, school, or work relationships.

This article gives an overview of emotional outbursts, including examples, causes, symptoms, and more.

A young woman appears to be having an emotional outburst - directed at her cell phone.


Examples of Emotional Outbursts

When a person is experiencing an emotional outburst, they may feel triggered by something that isn't a big deal to others. Their reaction to the situation may seem disproportionate to the situation and may include the following:

  • Sudden irritability or anger
  • Outbursts of shouting or crying
  • Threatening or insulting others
  • Slamming doors, stomping, making a mess, or destroying property
  • Harming themselves, such as banging their head or punching walls
  • Throwing things
  • Hitting, kicking, biting, or spitting

Causes of Emotional Outbursts

People are not born with the ability to regulate or control their emotions. However, as they grow, they usually develop emotional regulation—skills and strategies to manage and cope with powerful emotions.

For children still learning to respond to strong emotions appropriately, certain situations may trigger them. These can include the following:

  • Feeling that someone is criticizing them
  • Feeling misunderstood or misunderstanding others
  • Demands not being immediately met
  • Changes in routine
  • Frustration at being unable to do a task
  • Hunger, exhaustion, or changing hormones

Emotional Dysregulation

Sometimes, people are unable to develop effective strategies for managing strong, difficult emotions. When the ability to manage negative emotions is impaired, people have emotional dysregulation. This can cause emotional outbursts and may be due to the following:

Symptoms of Being Unable to Control Your Emotions

Symptoms of being unable to control your emotions can include:

  • Inability to express how you're feeling clearly
  • Inability to make sense of your emotions
  • Difficulty accepting your emotions
  • Not knowing what caused your emotions
  • Feeling helpless to control your emotions
  • Feeling overwhelmed by emotions
  • Difficulty controlling your behavior or impulses in a way that will promote a positive outcome or goal

How to Manage Anger

If you're having difficulty managing your anger, you may try some of the following strategies:

  • Calm yourself: If you feel angry, try something that calms you down. This may include taking a walk, listening to music, utilizing breathing techniques, or gentle stretching or yoga.
  • Remove yourself from the situation: If you are at work or a family or friend gathering, let others know you need a break and excuse yourself from the potentially triggering situation.
  • Practice self-care: Regularly taking care of your physical health can help you manage your emotions. Eating balanced meals, exercising, and getting adequate sleep can improve daily functioning and help you manage stressors.
  • Get professional help: When your emotions are out of control, speaking with a healthcare or mental health provider can help you increase awareness and clarity around why you're feeling the way you do and develop personalized strategies for managing your anger. Medication may also be prescribed if your anger is due to an underlying psychological condition.

Remember that these strategies may not work for everyone and that there may be underlying causes for your emotional outbursts. Consult your healthcare provider to ensure you are getting the help you need.

When to Seek Help

If you're deciding whether to seek help for emotional or behavioral issues, consider asking yourself questions about how your behaviors impact your life. Questions about subjective distress, daily functions, and social relationships include the following:

Subjective distress:

  • Ask yourself honestly, "How are you doing right now?"
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed by problems and stressful situations?
  • Do you feel like hurting yourself or others?

Daily life functions:

  • Reflect on your daily life—how well have you been doing at home, school, or work?
  • Are you finding yourself less engaged and unable to complete tasks?
  • Have you received negative feedback from school or work?

Social relationships:

  • How much does being with friends or family feel frustrating, exhausting, or uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel isolated or withdrawn from friends and family?

These questions are not meant to diagnose emotional outbursts but to help you consider if seeking professional help for any emotional or behavioral health issues can help.

Feeling frustrated or angry from time to time is a normal response to stressful situations. However, when outbursts of strong emotion begin to feel disruptive to your day-to-day functioning and meaningful relationships, it may be a sign to seek professional help.


Though there's no specific diagnosis for emotional outbursts, your healthcare provider may:

  • Ask you questions about your health and relationship history
  • Use self-report surveys to measure your emotions and your ability to manage them
  • Direct you to a mental health provider who can help you explore your feelings and create new strategies to manage strong emotions


Emotional outbursts are strong, uncontrollable bursts of anger or frustration disproportionate to the situation causing them. They are common for children who have not yet learned to regulate their emotions but may also occur in adulthood. Outbursts in adulthood could be due to childhood maltreatment or neglect, psychological issues, or brain trauma.

If emotional outbursts are harming your relationships and affecting your day-to-day functioning, it may be a sign that professional help is necessary. Though there's no official diagnosis for emotional outbursts, healthcare providers can use diagnostic tools to determine your ability to regulate your emotions. These tools can help you and your healthcare provider identify the best strategies to manage your feelings.

A Word From Verywell

Having intense emotions is a normal part of life. However, if you are experiencing uncontrolled and sudden episodes of anger, you could be having emotional outbursts. If you cannot regulate your emotions, it's a good idea to speak with a trusted healthcare provider who can diagnose any underlying causes and help you develop strategies to manage them.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are emotional outbursts normal?

    Emotional outbursts are normal for toddlers and young children who may still be learning to manage their feelings. Even older children and teenagers may experience emotional outbursts. However, adults exhibiting emotional outbursts may have underlying conditions, such as childhood trauma or neurological or psychological issues.

  • Why do I have meltdowns over small things?

    If you're experiencing meltdowns over small things, you may want to speak with a healthcare provider to help you manage your emotions and determine if there is an underlying cause of your meltdowns.

  • What is it called when you can't control your emotions?

    Emotional dysregulation is the term for when you can't control your emotions. There can be many reasons for emotional dysregulation, including childhood experiences of neglect or maltreatment, brain trauma, psychological issues, and more.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The Emotional Outburst Inventory (EMO-I).

  2. Dvir Y, Ford JD, Hill M, et al. Childhood maltreatment, emotional dysregulation, and psychiatric comorbiditiesHarv Rev Psychiatry. 2014;22(3):149-161. doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000014

  3. Hallion LS, Steinman SA, Tolin DF, et al. Psychometric properties of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale (DERS) and its short forms in adults with emotional disordersFront Psychol. 2018;9:539. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00539

  4. Gill D, Warburton W, Sweller N, et al. The emotional dysregulation questionnaire: development and comparative analysisPsychol Psychother Theory Res Pract. 2021;94(S2):426-463. doi:10.1111/papt.12283

  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Coping with anger.

  6. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Deciding when to seek treatment.

By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.