Feeling a range of emotions is a natural part of the human experience. From happiness to anger to sadness, emotions are your mind's way of responding to life's events, and on their own, they're perfectly healthy. Even anger has its place, and while many people show inappropriate anger, there are times when anger is necessary and justified.
All emotions play a role in your wellbeing. But when you start to feel like you need to cry for what feels like no reason, it may be a sign that you're suffering from anxiety.
Why Anxiety Can Make You Cry
Anxiety can be an overwhelming condition - more than people realize. There are millions of people living with anxiety disorders that are able to handle themselves every day. These people often feel like, while their anxiety is affecting their life, it's still manageable.
But the more a person struggles with anxiety, the harder it may be to manage those emotions. Anxiety puts the body under tremendous stress, and it takes energy and resources to reduce that anxiety. Anxiety can be powerful - so powerful that the stress of it is essentially providing your body with a non-stop barrage of physical and mental symptoms. Symptoms don’t always generate further emotions, but they are wearing and reduce the ability to cope and tolerate the experience.
Anxiety Can Cause Mild to Severe Depression
Anxiety, while a separate disorder, can affect your social life, your work life, and your ability to find joy in activities. It also puts a great deal of stress on your mind and body.
Anxiety may reduce your involvement in activities that would usually give you pleasure and fulfilment. If this continues over time this can lead to feelings of depression.In fact, depression is often a comorbid diagnosis with anxiety, and in many cases, the anxiety comes first and contributes to the development of depression.
Anxiety may not necessarily cause long lasting depression, but the stress on your brain and the feeling of constant fear and fatigue can often lead to temporary feelings of low mood, and thus crying.
From Crying to Apathy
In a way, it's almost advantageous that you're able to cry. Crying is actually a natural stress reliever. When you cry, you're letting out emotions. By triggering a crying reaction, you may be helping to reduce your stress levels.
There are those that may struggle with other emotions. Some people's anxiety is so strong it leads to emotional numbing - or the inability to feel emotions. These people may cry less, but they also are unable to experience any happiness or joy. They generally experience one constant feeling of negativity each and every day, shutting themselves off from all emotions. As they have become so used to blocking out emotions, when something tips them over their emotional threshold and they cry, it may feel like it has come from "nowhere".
Crying During Anxiety Attacks
It's also not uncommon to feel like crying before, during, or after an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks are single moments of overwhelming fear and panic. Many people feel impending doom, as though they are about to die. As a result, they respond by crying, because that's a natural response to a feeling of intense dread along with the physiological reaction that occurs during a panic episode.
After an anxiety attack is over, others may find themselves still experiencing these intense emotions, often about the helplessness they felt during the attack. Panic attacks are so intense, that when they're over a feeling of needing to cry is natural and expected. Not everyone cries after anxiety attacks, but the intensity makes it natural to feel like crying.
Why Do I Cry So Much?
It's one thing to feel the need to cry after a particularly hard day. But some people feel that they need to randomly cry, and others are shocked at how uncontrollable their tears are. It is as though a waterfall is coming from their eyes, sometimes at "surprising" times.
That instinct is often just emotion that is trying to find its way out. Anxiety is excitatory to the body - it activates your fight or flight system. Your desire to cry may be related to the way your body is reacting to that system, where the intense emotions and stress during that time overwhelm the body..
Fear is scary, and your "flight" mode may be triggering your body to produce large amounts of tears as a way to let out that stress.
For some crying may also become a habitual response. Once you become used to crying as a way to relieve anxiety stress, you may develop a habit of crying when you experience that stress in the future because it provides emotional relief.
Physiology of Crying - a Self Soothing Behavior?
Why do we cry?
Scientists are not entirely sure why we cry. In an area near your eye is the lacrimal system. One part of the system creates tears. The other part lets the tears free by draining the liquid near the eye.
These tears keep your eyes hydrated when you blink. They also cover your eyes during allergies. But what we are most interested in is why strong emotions release tears (known as psychic tears), and surprisingly scientists are still not entirely sure.
There are some signs that indicate that tears are meant to play a role in stress relief. For example, when you cry, your tears release leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller. Other researchers have looked at whether or not crying is a self-soothing behavior capable of cooling the body temperature and triggering coping mechanisms.
If you are interested in a long, complex read about the self-soothing nature of crying, the following research paper is quite interesting. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4035568/
So the truth is that we do not entirely know why we cry exactly, but we know that there are many potential signs that crying is simply a great way to cope with significant emotion. And when a person has anxiety, crying may be a much needed coping response.
But I Just Want to Cry!
It is important for us to point out that there is nothing wrong with crying. It is not a weakness nor a flaw. When we discuss how to "control" and "prevent" crying for those that have anxiety, we are not implying that you should hold it all back.
Indeed, to treat your need to cry, you need to…
Let Yourself Cry
Many people wonder how to stop themselves from feeling like they need to cry. But the reality is that you shouldn't - if you need to cry, you should cry.
This may go against your instinct, but one of the issues that leads to more intense anxiety is holding back your emotions. There are two reasons for this:
- Your emotions are your body's natural coping mechanism. While it's true that some emotions can feel as though they are irrational, when the feeling is there it's usually because your body needs to do it to feel better. Crying will almost always help.
- Holding back emotions also takes energy. You have to focus your energy specifically on trying not to cry, which means that you are forced to dwell on the way you feel for longer, which only serves to increase stress and anxiety.
When you feel like you need to cry for no apparent reason, then the crying itself can be judged as irrational. But that doesn't mean you don't still need to cry. If your body is telling you to cry, then allowing yourself to cry is better for your stress coping than trying to prevent it.
Preventing the Crying Feeling
Remember - you shouldn't stop yourself from crying. Cry as much as you need to, so that you can let out the feeling of needing to cry. Whether you need to randomly cry, or you are struggling with anxiety and another condition (such as loss, grief, PMS, pain, etc.), or you are so overwhelmed with anxiety the tears just flow out, you should still let yourself cry for as long as you need to.
In order to "stop" crying, you have to take action before the urge to cry occurs. The only way to prevent the crying feeling from anxiety and stress is with anxiety prevention. You need to control the extent of your anxiety and how you react to it emotionally. Then you'll be able to reduce the way your mind responds emotionally.
Medically Reviewed & Updated by Alexandra Richards, PhD, Clinical Psychology on August 21, 2018.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 11, 2018.