Some people cry while reading a sad book or watching videos of baby animals. Others cry only at funerals. And for certain people, the mere hint of anything that arouses emotions can cause tears to flow.
If you’ve ever had tears well up in a meeting or wept out loud in a movie theatre, you may have wondered if it’s normal. Is there such a thing as crying too often or too much?
There are no guidelines for how much crying is too much. A study in the 1980s found that women cry an average of 5.3 times per month and men cry an average of 1.3 times per month. A newer study found that the average duration for a crying session was eight minutes.
If you’re concerned that you’re crying too much, if you can’t seem to stop crying, or have started crying more than usual, talk to your doctor. It may be a sign of depression or another mood disorder.
There are a lot of reasons, besides having an immediate emotional response, why you may cry more than normal. Tearfulness is frequently associated with depression and anxiety. People often experience the two conditions at the same time. Certain neurological conditions can also make you cry or laugh uncontrollably.
Depression is a mood disorder in which you have persistent feelings of sadness that last more than a few weeks. Activities you once found pleasurable may no longer interest you. Symptoms of depression may include:
- sadness and gloominess
- feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- low energy
- difficulty concentrating
Your crying may be related to depression if you:
- cry over small things or have trouble identifying why you’re crying
- cry much more than normal
- have trouble stopping your tears
Excessive crying is more likely to happen if your depression is milder. People with severe depression often have trouble crying or expressing other emotions.
We all have times when we’re nervous and anxious. With anxiety disorder, though, you experience worry and nervousness more often, maybe even on a daily basis. Symptoms often include:
- edginess or irritability
- excessive worry
- muscle tension
- difficulty focusing or concentrating
- trouble sleeping
Sudden uncontrollable crying, laughing, or feeling anger can be a symptom of a condition called pseudobulbar affect (PBA). PBA is an involuntary neurological state related to an injury or disturbance in parts of your brain that control your emotions.
Sometimes called emotional incontinence, the uncontrolled emotions associated with PBA often don’t match how you feel or what you’re experiencing. Because the symptoms are similar, PBA may be misdiagnosed as depression. PBA often occurs in people who have:
- history of stroke
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
Gender and personality
Studies indicate that, on average, women cry more often than men. One possible reason for this is that testosterone may inhibit crying. Cultural norms may also account for some of the differences in crying among men and women.
Besides a difference between sexes, people who are empathetic and concerned about the well-being of others may cry more than people who are less empathetic. People who are anxious, insecure, or obsessive, cry more and for longer periods of time than other people.
Glands located above your eyes produce most of your tears. They’re called lachrymal glands. The word lachrymal means tear. Every time you blink, tears flow to your eyes from ducts attached to your lachrymal glands. This keeps the surface of your eyes lubricated and protects them from substances like dust, smoke, or onion gasses. Tears also drain into your nose.
Tears are made up of:
- protective antibodies
The chemistry of tears caused by emotion, sometimes called psychic tears, is different than that of tears that moisten and protect your eyes. Psychic tears contain more of the protein-based hormones your body produces under stress.
There’s limited research on the science and psychology of crying. Some researchers believe crying is a way your body gets rid of stress-related hormones. Other studies show tears may trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that make you feel good and reduce pain.
A recent focus of research is the response people have to the chemical content of tears. Studies have shown, for example, that men are less aggressive and less sexually aroused when smelling women’s psychic tears.
Crying doesn’t necessarily make you feel better. In one study, only about 30 percent of participants said crying made their mood improve. Crying is more likely to make you feel better if:
- you have the emotional support of a friend
- you’re crying because of a positive experience
- it enables you to understand your emotions better
- it helps you resolve an issue or problem
If you have symptoms of depression or anxiety, or emotional responses that don’t feel right, don’t try to tough it out alone. Mood disorders can have a negative impact on every part of your life. This includes your relationships, work, or school. They also make you more vulnerable to physical illnesses.
Talk with your doctor about what you’re experiencing. Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist who specializes in working with people who have mood disorders.
Approximately 80 percent of people with depression improve significantly with treatment. Treatment for depression and anxiety can include psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medications. Self-care is important, too. Many people find relaxation techniques, meditation, mindfulness, and exercise helpful.
Therapy and medications can also alleviate the effects of PBA. Some people with PBA see an improvement after taking a drug called dextromethorphan hydrobromide and quinidine sulfate (Nuedexta). Nuedexta was developed just for PBA, and it's the only drug that's approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the condition.
Antidepressants may also be prescribed for PBA. However, the FDA hasn't approved the use of antidepressants as a PBA treatment. When a drug is used to treat a condition other than the ones it's FDA-approved for, then that's considered off-label drug use.
Some people cry more than others. Women tend to cry more than men, even in cultures where it’s acceptable for males to cry. Crying more than is normal for you may be a symptom of depression or a neurological disorder.
If you’re concerned about the amount you’re crying, talk to your doctor.
There’s nothing wrong with crying, but if you want to try to manage your tears, there are some things you can try:
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This may help you relax, which could also stop the flow of tears.
- Relax your facial muscles so your expression is neutral.
- Think about something repetitious, like a poem, a song, or nursery rhyme you’ve memorized.
- Take a walk or find another way to temporarily remove yourself from a stressful or upsetting situation.
- If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- • Stay with the person until help arrives.
- • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
- If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.