Crying is a common occurrence for many of us. Sometimes, we cry when we watch movies, and occasionally, we even cry tears of joy. We may have a tough day or encounter a strenuous life event and end up with more tears than we typically would. There are a ton of diverse reasons one might cry, and generally speaking, it is a healthy thing and it can be a perfectly normal emotional response to sad situations as well as happy ones. It’s a natural release that can help lessen stress in the body and mind and release endorphins known to make us feel good. All that said, there are times when a person may experience excessive tears and wonder “why can’t I stop crying?”. This could impact their life, perhaps alongside other symptoms, and in some cases, it could be a sign of a mental health condition or another concern. So, when does it become a sign of a deeper problem? Is there such a thing as tearing up too much? Let’s talk about what it means to cry excessively, the potential causes of why people cry often, and what to do about it.
There’s no set expectation or maximum when it comes to how much we should or shouldn’t cry as adults. However, regular uncontrollable crying spells — crying so much that it interferes with daily functioning, or frequent crying paired with other symptoms, like a low or depressed mood — could be symptomatic of a diagnosable disorder.
Why Can't I Stop Crying?
Here are some possible causes of excessive crying and reasons why you may be shedding many tears:
Conditions such as major depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and postpartum depression all have one thing in common: Excessive crying is a potential symptom. Now, it doesn’t impact everyone who lives with a depressive disorder (in fact, some people experience emotional numbness, which may or may not actually pair with a lack of crying), but it is a common symptom of depression, and this is one possibility. If you cry often and notice signs of depression in yourself, make sure to talk with a mental health or medical professional. Depression is also often associated with anxiety disorders too, so it can become even more overwhelming to deal with. Regardless if it’s mild symptoms or you’re dealing with severe depression and anxiety, you should always address it and find ways to manage the symptoms.
Depressive disorders are not the only mental health conditions that can lead to crying more frequently than might be expected or typical. This may also include bipolar disorder, or other mood disorders, personality disorders, and a number of other mental health conditions. Some disorders can come with symptoms like emotional dysregulation, and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, regardless of type, usually means that someone has experienced at least one depressive episode in addition to meeting other diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder.
In addition to possibly having a mood disorder, it is possible for high levels of stress to lead to crying spells and other potentially undesirable symptoms or health outcomes. If there’s a lot on your plate and you feel overwhelmed, this could be what’s going on. Grief, too, could be a cause of why you cry regularly. The stages of grief that someone experiences, or may experience, when coping with a loss of some kind include depression, and it is a possibility that this may mean crying more than usual.
Another diagnosis called pseudobulbar affect (PBA) could be the cause you're looking for if you experience uncontrollable tears production, laughter, or fits of anger. These feelings and emotions leading to excess tears can be the result of injury to the part of the brain that controls emotions and their facial muscles. A person diagnosed with PBA, which is causing them to cry excessively, could have experienced a severe brain injury or neurological conditions such as stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease), or multiple sclerosis (MS). People who live with PBA could be misdiagnosed as having depression under some circumstances, but it is actually a neurological condition. Pseudobulbar affect is often the result of progressive neurological diseases and delaying treatment for longer periods of time because of misdiagnoses or prescribing treatment that is ineffective or harmful to the person. People who have pseudobulbar affect often experience excessive crying, outbursts, and other symptoms that are not always reflective of how they feel. The tears and these other symptoms are usually involuntary.
"No matter what you're experiencing, with the right tools provided by a therapist, you can figure out why you can't stop crying."
Such emotional expression, especially when it’s not representative of how someone actually feels inside, may be embarrassing or frustrating and can disrupt their daily life as it relates to work, school, social situations, or even self-esteem. Once someone has been diagnosed with pseudobulbar affect, the symptoms of the condition, like uncontrollable crying, can be managed with treatment. Most often, a neurologist will be the person to provide the proper diagnosis for this condition.
There is nothing wrong with crying. After all, crying is a natural way of relieving stress. However, if you think you're crying excessively, this can lead to a numbing of emotional responses, blocking other emotions. You may get to the point where you're crying less but have trouble experiencing happiness and joy. Even though you might not cry anymore, you may find yourself shutting down, unable to concentrate on work, taking more sick days, refusing to answer your phone, refusing visitors, or otherwise isolating yourself from others, including your own friends and family members. Or you might be confused about the reason why you’re crying.
If you don't understand the reason you're crying or experiencing other symptoms, it may be time to see a doctor or another medical provider who can provide testing and, if applicable, a diagnosis for why you’re shedding so many tears these days. Many symptoms — like excessive crying or crying spells, trouble sleeping, etc. — have multiple potential causes like depression and anxiety disorders. When the cause is determined, you may be presented with treatment options. For example, medication and therapy may be recommended to treat major depressive disorder or another similar condition and are supported by medically reviewed empirical research and peer reviewed studies. Before starting, stopping, or changing a medication or treatment regimen of any kind, make sure to consult with your prescribing doctor. Of course, if you’re having suicidual ideation or thoughts of self harm on top of the other symptoms please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by dialing the three digits 9-8-8.
What might therapy for depression look like? There are a number of different therapeutic modalities that can help; so, if you’ve tried one and it hasn’t been as effective as you hoped, know that there are a variety of other options. One common, heavily researched form of therapy used to treat depression, anxiety, and other common mental health conditions is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-focused therapy that aims to help people change the way they think. According to a study by Ellen Driessen, M.Sc. and Steven D. Hollon, Ph.D., CBT is an effective treatment for acute depression and can be used as an alternative to antidepressants for some. Some evidence shows that CBT could affect cognition and help prevent future relapse.
While crying can be a result of sadness and despair, it can also be quite healing and a form of self-soothing behavior. So, none of this is to say that crying a lot of tears is “bad.” Instead, it’s to say that you most likely know what is atypical or typical for you and that, if something is in fact impacting your life or seems abnormal, it’s worth it to look into that. If you feel that something is off or could be, consider reaching out to qualified mental health and wellness professionals with whom you can discuss your symptoms that could be causing you to cry more than usual. They can provide an invaluable service to you and will give you an outlet to securely process your feelings and emotions so you can shed tears on your own terms.
What Else Can I Do?
In addition to mental health therapy and other interventions, personal or at-home self-care options are often an important piece when it comes to caring for a person's well-being. These practices may include getting enough sleep, physical activity, eating regular meals, stress management techniques like taking deep breaths and progressive muscle relaxation, turning to coping skills when needed, and maintaining or establishing a support system. A therapist or counselor who has relevant experience assisting people through emotional problems can help you find a self-care plan that serves you, with your circumstances and individual needs in mind.
Regardless of what you are going through in life, talk therapy may be advantageous for you. In addition to mental health conditions like depression, therapy can support you through daily life stressors, grief, and more. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that connects users in need of mental health services with certified therapists. Gone are the days where you have to scour the area for the nearest counselor and schedule multiple appointments until you find the right fit. Counseling with BetterHelp is often more affordable and time efficient when compared to offline alternatives. Simply jump online, connect with a counselor, and start therapy on your own schedule and from the comfort of your own home.
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Though it’s not always the case, excessive crying can be indicative of a mood disorder like depression. However, these types of disorders are treatable and can be addressed with the proper help. Consider reaching out to a professional therapist who can give you the tools to better understand your emotions and, if necessary, help control your tears.