Crying is a universal experience. People can get teary for almost any reason and at any time. There’s a lot we still don’t know about crying but some scientists believe emotional tears — versus the everyday tears that protect your eyes — are also beneficial for your health.
Sometimes you might find yourself crying a lot more often than you’d like to or without an apparent cause.
There’s no official standard for a healthy amount of crying because everyone is different. It’s helpful to pay attention to your crying habits and how you feel about it.
Sometimes you may not know why you’re crying or why you can’t stop crying. Other times, you might not realize how upset you are until you step back and notice how much you’ve been crying lately.
Where you measure up in terms of average amount of crying may not be as important as noticing increases in your personal pattern of crying.
Uncontrollable crying may feel like tears well up too easily or they’re hard to soothe and stop.
Read on to learn about possible causes of uncontrollable crying as well as how to take care of yourself and seek help.
There’s still a lot that we don’t know about crying, who cries more, and why. Even large studies on crying and its effects rely on people to self-report, which makes results less consistent.
Crying is a tool to communicate an emotional response. It shows people around you that you’re feeling something. You may cry more or less, depending on how sensitive you are to stimuli and how comfortable you feel openly showing your emotions.
Many scientists have worked to find out if “a good cry” that leaves you feeling refreshed is actually possible. Overall, the research is split. It may also depend a lot on how supportive your environment is to showing emotion.
A large study of men and women from around the world found that people report crying one to 10 times per month. In the United States, women reported crying 3.5 times and men reported crying 1.9 times.
This is higher than the global averages, which were 2.7 times for women and 1 time for men. These are just averages and other studies have found different results.
Since women commonly report crying more than men, it’s a solid theory that hormones affect crying differences among people. Testosterone, a hormone higher in men, may prohibit crying, while prolactin, which is higher in women, may promote crying.
Hormones dictate much of how your body functions and their levels can cause a wide array of symptoms. If anything has been affecting your hormones, such as sleep, stress, or medications, it can likely affect how much you cry.
Crying in pregnancy
Being pregnant is a lot of work and crying more is a common occurrence. Both happy and sad feelings can trigger a lot of tears if you’re pregnant.
Reasons you might have uncontrollable crying in pregnancy are:
- major hormonal changes in your body
- exhaustion from physical changes in your body
- feeling overwhelmed with all of the preparations to have a baby
- increased occurrence of depression
Crying spells with anxiety and stress
Stress is a normal reaction to some of life’s everyday events. Stress makes your body and mind alert to what’s going on. However, constant stress can be the sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can prevent you from doing the things you want to do and living life as you desire.
Other signs of anxiety include:
- racing thoughts
- excess fear and worry
- sweaty palms and increased heart rate
- trouble sleeping
- tense muscles
- being easily distracted
- digestion issues
A lot of people report being quicker to cry when they’re really tired. If you’ve been crying a lot more lately and you know you’re not getting enough sleep, you should get more rest. It can take a long time to come back from sleep deficit.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Sleeping at unusual times also doesn’t help because your natural hormones make your brain tired and need sleep over the course of the night.
Anxiety and stress can make you more tired, so these might go together for you. But it’s certainly possible to be exhausted without having an underlying mental health condition.
To start making up for your loss of sleep, cancel your weekend plans and sleep in at least three hours. Then, go to bed an hour or two early every night for the rest of the week. If it’s hard to change this habit, make it a point to be in bed and reading something calm with your phone and email turned off. Shutting down like this can help you settle in and you might fall asleep easier.
Depression crying spells
Depression is a medical condition that often looks like sadness, exhaustion, or anger. It looks different in everyone. While it’s normal to be sad sometimes, people with depression have an unexplained heaviness for two weeks or more.
Depression is a mental health condition with many potential treatments. Unexplained crying can be a sign of depression.
Other symptoms include:
- significant change in eating and sleeping patterns and weight
- pessimism or apathy
- exhaustion or lethargy
- feelings of guilt
- inability to focus
- lack of desire for social engagement
- loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Depression can look vastly different from person to person. It can happen to anyone, though it’s more common in women and usually occurs between ages 25 to 44.
Working with a doctor can help you figure out what you’re experiencing and how to treat it. In about 80 percent of all cases of depression, people who seek treatment will see significant improvement of their symptoms.
Bipolar crying spells
Bipolar disorder is a common cause of uncontrollable crying. Also called manic-depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood from high to low feelings. It affects more than 2 million adults in the United States.
The depressive states of bipolar disorder can look like depression, but it’s otherwise a very different condition. People with bipolar disorder will also experience times of manic excitement and energy.
Other symptoms include:
- extreme and unpredictable mood swings
- racing speech and thoughts
- need for less sleep without getting fatigue
- delusions of grandeur
Bipolar disorder can occur in anyone of any age and ethnicity, and it’s commonly passed down in families. A doctor can offer many options to treat it.
Uncontrollable crying can be caused by pseudobulbar affect, also called emotional lability. There have been reports of this uncontrollable laughing or crying since the
Pseudobulbar affect is marked by laughing or crying that seems inappropriate to the environment or stimuli. It’s believed to be caused by damage to the brain, though more research is needed to fully understand this condition.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved one of the first forms of treatment for pseudobulbar affect. If you have uncontrollable crying at unexpected times and no other symptoms, speak with a doctor.
You shouldn’t feel pressure to stop yourself from crying unless you personally decide you want to. While crying can be very helpful in relieving stress, that’s not always the case. Depending on each situation, you can decide if you’d rather cry and move on, or avoid it completely.
However, if you find yourself constantly trying to avoid crying, there may be more going on in your health that needs attention.
Research shows that culture and social norms can affect your experience of crying. If you’re crying, it may be best to have a supportive friend with you and to let yourself cry without shame or embarrassment. In these cases, you’re a lot more likely to feel better after crying.
“Happy tears” resulting from positive situations may also leave you feeling better than shedding sad tears prompted by something negative.
Of course, there are some times when you really don’t want to cry. In those cases, try these tips:
- Slow your breath.
- Loosen your facial muscles and throat where you can get that lump.
- Try smiling. People report this physical change affects their emotions or distracts the body and prevents tears.
- Push your tongue into the roof of your mouth.
- Drink water.
- Think of something mundane like a poem or recipe you know by heart to distract yourself.
- Look at something soothing.
People with mental health issues may feel a variety of hurdles — physical, emotional, and social — in getting help. However, many report improvement after treatment. It’s very important that you get help for your safety and quality of life.
Here are some resources if you need help:
- Call 911 or go to an emergency room if there’s immediate danger.
- Crisis Text Line is available 24 hours every day to text with trained crisis counselors: Text HOME to 741741.
- The National Suicide Prevention hotline is available 24 hours every day at 800-273-8255.
- Search online for local crisis centers that may be able to provide long-term support.
- Confide in a trusted friend and ask them to help you get treatment.
Some people cry more easily or can’t stop crying once they’ve started. Crying is totally normal but you may want to cry less often or your crying might be due to a health condition.
If you’ve suddenly started crying more, talk to a doctor. There could be a medical cause and treatment can help.