Crying may be a natural response to emotions for many. You may cry while watching a sad movie, after a difficult loss, or when you feel extreme happiness. There are many reasons one might cry and the physical release of tears can be a healthy and important response to sensitivity, overwhelm, or profound emotions. Crying may lessen stress in the body and release endorphins that make you feel better.
Despite the often-healthy nature of crying, crying may feel distressing or confusing to some. If you can’t stop crying, it may impact your life. In some cases, crying is a symptom of a mental health condition. Knowing when crying can signify a need for support could be advantageous in your healing journey.
What Is Causing These Tears?
Although there is nothing wrong with crying and no set amount of crying that is considered unhealthy, you might find your tears interfering with daily functioning. When paired with symptoms like a persistent low mood, difficulty getting out of bed, or irritability, uncontrollable crying might also be a sign of depression.
Conditions like major depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and postpartum depression might be one of the main reasons that people cry. Not everyone with depression experiences crying. Some may experience the opposite through emotional numbness or another emotional response. However, if your crying coincides with other depressive symptoms, you may choose to connect with a professional to seek treatment or evaluation.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- A persistent low mood
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in weight
- Crying episodes
- A lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Difficulty with personal hygiene
- Inability to focus
- Difficulty with executive function (cleaning, chores, etc.)
- Suicidal thoughts, urges, or behaviors*
Depression is often associated with anxiety disorders, so crying may also accompany anxious feelings or other emotions. Whether you're experiencing mild or severe depressive symptoms, consider reaching out to a medical professional for supportif you have an anxiety disorder.
*If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support.
Other Mental Health Conditions Related To Crying
Depression is not necessarily the only mental health condition that might lead to crying often. Bipolar disorder, mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma disorders, or certain neurological conditions may also cause crying symptoms. Major hormonal changes can also result in unusual emotional activity, with some disorders including symptoms like emotional dysregulation, which may cause crying. Bipolar disorder and some mood disorders also include depression as a symptom.
Stress And Grief
High-stress levels may lead to crying spells or crying uncontrollably and other potentially undesirable symptoms or health outcomes. If you feel overwhelmed, you may be experiencing stress or mental burnout.
Grief can also cause frequent crying. Depression and sadness are often listed as a stage of the grieving process. You can grieve someone you've lost to death, a breakup, or life circumstances. Any loss may cause frequent crying. In these cases, crying can be healthy and relieving.
Pseudobulbar Affect Condition Called
The pseudobulbar affect (PBA) may also cause frequent crying. If you happen to experience uncontrollable and uncomfortable tears, laughter, or fits of anger during unemotional or unrelated events where you should have a normal reaction, you might be experiencing this neurological disorder. Often, the involuntary crying or laughter caused by this effect is unrelated to how a person truly feels. For example, they might cry during a happy moment or laugh during a sad one.
The pseudobulbar effect often results from injury to the part of the brain that controls emotions and facial muscles. A person diagnosed with PBA may 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 with a mental health condition. However, this condition is neurological. Delaying treatment could be harmful. If you believe you're experiencing this effect, consider reaching out to a neuropsychologist or neurologist for testing.
An emotional expression that isn't representative of how someone feels may feel embarrassing or frustrating and can disrupt daily life or cause self-esteem issues. Often, the pseudobulbar effect can be treated through the support of a medical professional.
One condition, called emotional incontinence, refers to the inability to control one's emotional reactions. Individuals who experience this condition may be prone to sudden and intense outbursts of emotion, such as anger, frustration, or sadness. They may not be able to control their emotions healthily and instead lash out at those around them or feel overwhelmed by their reactions.
Emotional incontinence can be rooted in a variety of causes. It is often linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety as well as trauma or abuse experienced in the past as a child or adult. In addition to these more physical causes, environmental factors can also contribute to emotional incontinence. Those who experience chronic stress due to work or personal relationships may find their emotions harder to control and they may be prone to sudden outbursts of anger or sadness. Additionally, neglecting self-care such as lack of sleep or poor nutrition can lead to major hormonal changes which may make it more difficult for people to control their emotions.
Excessive Crying: When Should I Seek Help?
Crying can be healthy. It is often our body's way of relieving stress. However, if you're crying excessively, experiencing thoughts of self-harm, or your crying doesn't match up with how you feel, you might find that it's blocking you from experiencing joy.
If you don't understand the reason you're crying, it may benefit you to see a medical provider who can provide testing or a referral to a psychologist. Mental health conditions or neurological causes may be at play. When the cause is determined, your doctor may discuss your treatment options.
Treatment For Mental Health Conditions
Medication and therapy may be recommended to treat a mental health condition like depression, which is often cited as highly treatable. Before starting, stopping, or changing a medication or treatment regimen, consult with your prescribing doctor.
Several therapeutic modalities may benefit you. 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 goal-focused therapy. 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 symptom relapse for longer periods.
While crying can result from sadness and despair, it may also be a self-soothing behavior. Crying often isn't necessarily unhealthy and doesn’t pose any immediate danger or emotional health risks. However, if you feel it is harming or disrupting your life, you might try mental health treatment or learn emotional control skills with a mental health professional. They may also allow you an outlet to safely process your emotions.
How To Support Yourself
In addition to mental health treatment or other interventions, personal or at-home self-care options may benefit you. These practices could include:
- Practicing sleep hygiene
- Exercising or partaking in physical activity, like yoga
- Eating consistent healthy meals
- Get plenty of rest
- Taking deep breaths and practicing relaxation techniques
- Read or write a nursery rhyme
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Turning to coping skills when needed
- Maintaining or establishing a support system
- Laughing with friends and/or family
A therapist or counselor with relevant experience assisting people through emotional problems may also support you in finding a self-care strategy that serves you with your circumstances and individual needs in mind. These professionals can get a sense of your unique situation and assist. Through online therapy, you may be able to receive support during a time of day that works for you so that you can receive the support that you need.
Alternative Therapy Options
If you're interested in talk therapy or another form of counseling, you might be interested in looking outside your community for support. Some individuals experience barriers to treatment, such as a lack of options, high insurance co-pays, or inflexible treatment options.
If you relate, online counseling may benefit you. Studies show that online mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy is productive and as effective as traditional therapy in treating conditions such as anxiety or depression. As CBT often teaches new behavioral techniques and ways to manage emotions, it may benefit your unwanted crying.
Consider getting started by signing up for an online platform such as BetterHelp, which offers a growing database of licensed and trained counselors who specialize in various areas of mental healthcare.
Though it's not always the case, excessive crying can indicate a mood disorder like depression. However, these disorders are treatable and can be addressed with professional support. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist who can give you the tools to better understand and control your emotional responses.
Frequently Asked Questions
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
What does it mean if you can't stop crying?
What should I so if I can't stop crying?
What is anxiety crying?
What is a mental breakdown?
What happens when you cry for hours?
Is it normal to cry for days?
How do I stop being so emotional?
How do you know if you have a nervous breakdown?
How high anxiety make you cry?
Do anxiety attacks involve crying?
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