Medical News Today: Tips to control crying

Uncontrollable crying can be upsetting, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and exhausting. Understanding what causes crying, and learning how to control it is often a huge relief.

Sometimes, people have the urge to cry when they don’t want to and while it is important to note that there is nothing wrong with crying, there are some ways to control and prevent it from happening.

It is important to remember that crying could be a sign of a deeper problem, and if anyone suspects this is the case, they should visit their doctor.

Types of crying

eye crying two tears
Basal tears are 98 percent water and emotional tears contain proteins and hormones.

There are three kinds of tears that humans can produce, each of them has a different purpose.

Basal tears

Basal tears make sure the eyes do not dry out and are always present in the eyes. Humans produce around 5 to 10 ounces of basal tears each day.

Reflex tears

Reflex tears are produced to help protect the eye. If smoke or dust gets into the eye, or it is irritated, the nerves in the cornea send a message to the brain and reflex tears occur.

Emotional tears

Emotional tears. When a person is feeling emotional, the cerebrum (the front part of the brain) registers that emotion and a hormone is triggered causing emotional type tears to form.

What are tears made of?

Tears are made up of protein, water, mucus, and oil. However, their content will vary depending on what kind of tears they are. Basal tears, for example, are 98 percent water, where emotional tears contain several different chemicals, proteins, and hormones.

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How much crying is too much?

man crying with black background
There are no rules on crying too much, but any crying that affects everyday life should be referred to a healthcare professional.

There is no rule about how much crying is too much, and whether it is a problem depends on how an individual feels personally, and whether bouts of crying affect daily activities, relationships, and other aspects of everyday life.

Crying is normal, as are many of the reasons for crying. Some common reasons why a person might cry are:

  • frustration

  • fear

  • receiving bad news

  • missing someone

  • empathy

  • sad memories

  • anger

  • shock

  • feeling overwhelmed

  • a relationship breakdown

  • happiness

Tips for controlling crying

Mental approaches

1. Walk away

Walking away from a situation, it can be a helpful way to stop getting worked up and bursting into tears. Getting too angry, upset, or frustrated can cause crying so removing themselves and returning when calmer can help a person regain control.

2. Use words

Failure to communicate properly can lead to anger and frustration, which can trigger the urge to cry. Learning how to express feelings clearly, staying calm, and using words can help to keep tears at bay.

3. Have props and use distractions

Having something to scribble on, a stress ball, or something to look at visually may be of use when heading into a situation that could trigger crying. Distraction is another popular technique. Focusing on an activity or task, listening to uplifting music or starting a conversation can also be helpful.

4. Think about something positive or funny instead

Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones or think about something funny or silly instead. Seeing the lighter, funnier side to a stressful situation can make things easier and stop someone from crying so easily.

Physical approaches

5. Concentrate on breathing

Taking a deep breath and focusing on breathing slowly and calmly can help regain control.

6. Blink and move the eyes

Moving the eyes around and blinking back the tears can prevent them from spilling out.

7. Relaxing facial muscles

When a person cries their face tends to tense up. Focusing on the muscles in the face and relaxing them can help prevent crying.

8. Get rid of that throat lump

Emotional crying also affects the nervous system. One way it reacts is by opening up the muscle at the back of the throat (called the glottis). This feels as though a lump is forming in the throat. Sipping water, swallowing, and yawning can help make the lump go away.

9. Do some exercise

Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and is a great distraction from what is causing the upset too.

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How to avoid triggers

Man and woman chatting at a coffee shop
Talking to someone may be a recommended strategy to avoid triggers.

Avoiding triggers is about knowing the things that make a person cry and being able to identify them. This makes it easier for them to manage their emotions, as they can spot and prevent familiar thought-patterns long before reaching the point of crying.

Some strategies include:

Acknowledging feelings

Sometimes crying can be a reflex because people struggle to acknowledge how they are feeling.

Trying to understand the cause of distress and coming up with practical solutions will be more helpful than masking the problem by crying.

Modifying behavior

Behavioral modification is where a person is asked to try and focus on their thoughts and actions and identify the triggers that cause them to cry. Doing so enables them to come up with coping mechanisms to help. The more a person repeats these, the more control a person will have over their emotions.

Talking to someone

Talking to someone, whether they are a trusted friend, a family member, or a trained professional such as a therapist, can help a person work out problems, relieve stress and feel freer.

Writing it down

Some people find keeping a journal or writing their emotions down is a beneficial way to explore their feelings, find patterns, and see if there is a root cause for their problems that needs addressing.

Crying and mental health

Although crying is a normal part of life, excessive crying can be a sign of several mood or personality disorders that usually need professional help to control. Some common mood disorders are:

  • depression

  • anxiety disorder

  • Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) – intense feelings of anger or sudden, unexplained laughter or crying

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While it is perfectly normal and acceptable to cry, if a person suspects they cry more than normal or crying is getting in the way of their daily life, they should seek help and advice from a medical professional.

If they are considering harming themselves or others then seeking immediate help by calling 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255, or confiding in a trusted adult is the best course of action.

Crying in itself can sometimes be helpful and make a person feel much better so people should not try to hide tears, bury emotions, or suffer alone.

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