If you feel tears coming on at the office, walking away or doing deep breathing exercises may help keep them at bay.

We all know when we’re about to cry — the tickle that infiltrates our nose and the sudden blurriness in our vision as tears begin to puddle along our lower lash lines.

Those two physical responses alone are enough to make us quickly reach for a nearby tissue, especially if we’re in public.

But why is crying in the workplace so embarrassing?

Perhaps we’re most self-conscious of our emotional reactions while we’re at work because it’s a place where we’re expected to be professional, and where our willingness to be emotionally transparent may vary from co-worker to co-worker.

Whether the tears are caused by situations at work or at home, there are steps you can take to lessen this reaction. But in some cases, a good cry may be what you need, even if it happens in the workplace.

When you feel tears welling up at work, you can try one of the following methods to get them under control.

Walk away

If you feel tears coming on due to something that just happened at work, try to remove yourself from the situation.

Leaving the office to walk outside for a couple of minutes allows you to cool down without being provoked or reminded of what just occurred.

You can take this time to reassess whether your response was warranted, or how you can critically approach a similar situation in the future.

Distract yourself

Distractions may be helpful when the cause of crying is a memory or circumstance you can’t physically separate yourself from.

For example, if you’re ruminating over your impending divorce while at your desk, you can guide your mind toward something else. Pull up pictures of people, places, or pets you love. Or turn on music that calms you and boosts your mood.

This can be especially beneficial after completing a thought-stopping exercise.

You can practice stopping negative thoughts as soon as they enter your mind by replacing them with positive ones.


Exercise releases endorphins — the feel-good hormone. According to a 2019 study, exercise has also been associated with better blood circulation to our brain, directly impacting our physiological reaction to stress.

Take that knowledge to heart! In your free time, consider participating in aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming or cycling.

If you spend a lot of time at the office, consider brisk walks during your breaks.

Do some breath work

Deep breathing exercises are helpful for reducing stress. Your heart rate increases when you inhale, so try to practice taking longer, slower exhales, up to eight counts.

You can also try diaphragmatic breathing — deep, abdominal breathing that involves the diaphragm.

In this breathing practice, you’ll leave a hand on your belly and breathe in deeply, so that your abdomen expands. Then exhale fully and deeply to slow the breath more.

Get more sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? According to research from 2018, If you’re not locking in at least 6 to 8 hours, your ability to regulate emotions may take a hit.

Other 2018 research shows that not enough sleep may make you more likely to experience higher levels of stress, depression, tension, and anger.

The short answer? Absolutely.

Crying is a natural part of being human. It’s an expression of the vast range of emotions we can experience throughout our lifetime.

In fact, a 2018 survey by Accountemps found that 45% of workers admitted to crying at work. Additionally, 74% of chief financial officers (CFOs) surveyed agreed that crying is OK, at least occasionally.

The stigma of crying in a work environment is that we may be perceived as weak, disruptive, or immature — all of which could potentially impact our appearance as professionals.

Professional behavior is typically characterized as “formal and focused,” so any action that deviates from that polished image could be seen as inappropriate in a work environment.

But crying when something upsets us can instead be viewed as an authentic expression of what we’re feeling at the moment.

As long as we monitor those emotions so that they don’t become too frequent or extreme to the point of destroying property or making others around us excessively uncomfortable, the occasional office cry isn’t a hurdle to your next promotion.

There are several reasons you may shed tears at work.

Work-related frustrations

Sometimes the job itself can have us holding back tears. Whether our work has been harshly criticized or we’re butting heads in disagreement with a boss or co-worker, it can all lead to feelings of rejection and impostor syndrome.

These feelings can drive us to tears in some cases.

Personal life events

The pressure and pain from personal life events — such as financial strain, divorce, or the loss of a loved one — carry over into all aspects of our daily life, including work.

These circumstances often have no immediate solution, and when we can’t clearly see the path to get there, we can feel helpless and overwhelmed.

Physical pain

Maybe you’ve recently broken a bone or had surgery or another complicated condition that leaves you sore or sensitive. Sometimes the pain can be so great that it clouds any other thoughts and reduces us to tears.

The occasional cry at the office is to be expected. But it may be time to consider seeking help when you find yourself:

  • sobbing uncontrollably
  • reaching for tissues on a frequent basis
  • bursting into tears without an identifiable reason

Speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional can help determine whether underlying conditions may be causing your constant tears or if something more is going on.

If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health support.

Crying at work can feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that it’s a human response to pain and stress. Everyone does it, including your coworkers.

Many times, your coworkers may even understand how you’re feeling and show empathy.

So, rather than feeling embarrassed or ashamed, go ahead and let it out. If you need a break, try to take a walk around the building or find a quiet spot where you can take some deep breaths and regroup.

That burst of tears may be just what you need to feel more refreshed and move on with the rest of your day.