First thing’s first: It’s normal to cry. But if it happens at inconvenient times or you feel self-conscious about it, here’s what you can do.
Despite what you may have heard, crying is not a sign of weakness. In fact, being willing to sit with and witness your own emotions is a sign of profound strength. Crying can be a healthy release of emotion.
However, depending on the time and place, tears may feel like an inconvenience. During these inopportune moments, you may feel out of control and notice that convincing yourself not to cry has the opposite effect.
Whether you want to stop crying at work, at school, or when you’re angry, there are many strategies to soothe your nervous system and help you regulate your emotions.
When you feel that familiar lump in your throat or your eyes start to well up, try walking away and moving to another room where you can release your emotions in private.
Try saying this: “Can we pause for a moment? I need to go and grab a glass of water.”
When you’re stressed, crying is one of the ways your body tries to release that energy.
To target this fight, flight, or freeze mode directly, take 8 to 10 deep belly breaths. This will engage your parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest mode) to help you feel calmer.
There are many different breathing exercises. You can try a few to find out what works best for you.
If you give your hands something to do, it may help you control your urge to cry. Fidgeting with a small object can be subtle, yet effective, helping you stay grounded and keep you from being swept away by emotion.
Try picking up and focusing on an item that appeals to you, such as a:
- hair clip
- smooth stone or shell
- fidget spinner or another fidget toy
- string of beads, such as mala beads
- stress ball
You may find it helpful to look away from the source of what’s making you feel like crying. For example, if you’re at a movie, read the label on your snack instead.
If someone is speaking to you and you feel overwhelmed with emotion, drum up a positive image in your mind, like your dog’s happy face when you come home, or a moment in a funny show you recently watched.
Sometimes, a physical grounding technique can interrupt your pattern of thoughts. You can try to:
- suck on an ice cube
- run your lip over your teeth
- hold a warm beverage between your hands
- make a fist and press your nails into your skin (but not too hard)
- pinch the pressure point between your thumb and index finger
During a tense moment, you may want to try repeating a positive affirmation in your head, or out loud if you’re in private.
For example, “I am in control of my emotions,” or “This feels stressful, but it will be over soon.”
If you’re feeling self-conscious about the tears:
- tilt your chin up
- open your eyes wide
- avoid blinking for a moment
- let the tears pool in your eyes
- tighten your facial muscles
- focus on deep breaths
Crying is an emotional response, yes, but it’s also feedback. Tearing up frequently could mean that something in your life needs attention.
Reach out to a professional
If you feel like you frequently cry for no reason, you have regular crying spells, or you often sob uncontrollably, it might help to speak with a mental health professional about what’s behind this.
Various conditions can impact your ability to regulate emotions, including:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- anxiety disorders
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- bipolar disorder
- complex PTSD (C-PTSD)
- complicated grief
- histrionic personality disorder (HPD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- pseudobulbar affect (PBA)
The best way to get to the root cause is to work with a compassionate mental health professional for a diagnosis. Try our search tools to help find a clinician near you.
Take up journaling
You may find it useful to set a timer and do a stream of consciousness, where you write out whatever you’re thinking. If you’d prefer structure, we have 64 prompts you can try.
Get more sleep
Change your circumstances
Notice where you’re crying the most. Are the tears coming up around a certain family member all the time? This could be a signal that it’s time to draw some firm boundaries.
How about frequent crying at work? Well, perhaps it’s a sign to move on to another opportunity, so your body, mind, and spirit can return to equilibrium.
Crying may be uncomfortable at times, but it’s perfectly normal.
If it’s happening more than you’d like, don’t be afraid to prioritize your mental health and tweak your lifestyle accordingly.
If the tears do fall, own it. Say, “I’m having a very human moment. One second, please.” Close your eyes, wipe the tears, take a deep breath, and carry on.
Chances are, the person you’re with will say something like, “No problem at all. Here, take a tissue.”
After all, we’re only human.