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. On their own, they're perfectly healthy. Even anger has its place; while many people show inappropriate anger, there are times when anger is necessary and justified.
All emotions play a role in your well-being. But when you start to sense a 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. Millions of people living with anxiety disorders can handle themselves every day. These people often feel like the anxiety is manageable though it is affecting their lives.
However, the more a person struggles with anxiety, the harder it may be to manage the associated 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 associated with it essentially hits your body with a non-stop barrage of physical and mental symptoms. Symptoms don’t always generate further emotions, but they wear you down and reduce your ability to cope with and tolerate an experience.
Anxiety Can Cause Mild to Severe Depression
Anxiety, as a distinct 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 fulfillment. If this continues over time, it can lead to depression. In fact, depression is often a comorbid diagnosis with anxiety. In many cases, 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 feelings of constant fear and fatigue can often lead to a temporary 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 let out your emotions. By triggering a crying reaction, you may help to reduce your stress levels.
There are people who may struggle with other emotions. Some people’s anxiety is so strong that it leads to emotional numbing or the inability to feel emotions. These people may cry less, but they are also unable to experience any happiness or joy. They generally experience constant negativity each and every day, shutting themselves off from all emotions. As they have become so used to blocking out their emotions, when something tips them over the 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. Many people feel impending doom, as though they are about to die. 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 still experience the intense emotions, often regarding the helplessness, they felt during the attack. Panic attacks are so intense that, when they’re over, the need 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 trying to find its way out. Anxiety is excitatory to the body — it activates the fight or flight system. Your desire to cry may be related to the way your body is reacting to that system, with the intense emotions and stress during that time overwhelming the body.
Fear is scary, and your “flight” mode may trigger your body to produce large amounts of tears as a way to let out that stress.
To some, crying may also become a habitual response. Once you become used to crying as a way of relieving anxiety and stress, you may subsequently develop a habit of crying when you experience that stress 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 we are most interested in why strong emotions release tears (known as psychic tears); surprisingly, scientists are still not entirely sure.
Some signs 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 crying is a self-soothing behavior capable of cooling the body and triggering coping mechanisms.
If you are interested in a long, complex read about the self-soothing nature of crying, this research paper is quite interesting.
So the truth is that we do not entirely know why we cry, 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 or 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 instincts, 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 irrational, they usually mean your body needs to cry to feel better. Crying will almost always help.
- Holding back emotions 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. This only serves to increase your stress and anxiety.
When you feel like you need to cry for no apparent reason, the crying itself can be judged irrational. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to cry. If your body is telling you to cry, then allowing yourself to cry is better for coping with your stress 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 cry randomly, are struggling with anxiety and another condition (such as loss, grief, PMS, or pain), or are so overwhelmed with anxiety that the tears just flow out, you should let yourself cry for as long as you need to.
In order to “stop” crying, you have to act before the urge to cry occurs. The only way to prevent the crying feeling that results from anxiety and stress is to engage in 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 your mind’s emotional response.
When a person feels overwhelmed by emotions, including anxiety, crying acts as a natural stress reduction tool. It is typically a sign that a person can benefit from anxiety and stress reduction treatments. Crying itself is healthy when overwhelmed, so is more important to reduce anxiety than it is to find ways to stop crying.