4 Ways to Stop Crying

woman crying

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Crying is a natural human function—it is a way for us to express how we’re feeling inside, like smiling and laughing. However, unlike other expressions of emotions, crying tends to be one that is typically not in our control.

We can cry seemingly out of nowhere, and sometimes in certain circumstances that we deem undesirable or inappropriate. Sometimes we feel an intense urge to cry when we’d really rather not. 

While it is important to know that there is nothing wrong with crying and expressing sad emotions, it can be helpful to understand what is bringing up these sad emotions that are putting us in this situation in the first place.

Very intense episodes of crying, for example if your sobbing feels uncontrollable and impossible to tone down, you may be suffering from something more serious than momentary sadness.

Why We Cry

While many of our behaviors can be seen in nature by certain animals, crying seems to be distinctly human. Sure, other animals shed the occasional tear from their eyes, however, research says the act is not associated with a direct emotion but rather as part of normal ocular functioning.

Emotional Response

We humans, very obviously cry as a response to something deeply emotional, whether it is grieving the loss of a loved one or embracing the immense joy of welcoming a new child into the world. One emotion is sad and the other is happy, but both are intensely emotional experiences that tend to yield the same tearful response.

Physical Pain

People also cry, for lack of a better term, when their eyes are exposed to irritants like smoke, dust, or even something as seemingly harmless as cutting up onions.

This type of tear is called a reflex tear—it emerges when the eyes are exposed to an irritant and triggers certain nerve endings in the cornea (the dome-like structure in the front of the eye that helps focus light coming into the eye).

These nerve endings send messages to the brain, which then activates the lacrimal gland, located underneath the upper eyelid, to create reflex tears.

Why Cutting Onions Make You Cry

Cutting into an onion disrupts its cells, causing it to produce a sulfur chemical gas. When this comes in contact with the tear film of your eye, surfuric acid is produced. This is sensed as burning and causes tear production.

Pseudobulbar Affect 

If you’re someone who experiences frequent bursts of uncontrollable emotions including crying, as well as laughing or anger sensations, you may be suffering from a syndrome known as pseudobulbar affect, or PBA.

This condition is relatively common in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and can have profound implications on a person’s quality of life leading to several associated feelings including severe anxiety, social isolation, and embarrassment. 

Pseudobulbar affect has several different manifestations, including excessive crying in sad situations and uncontrollable laughter in circumstances that the average person would not find warrants such exuberance.

While research is still underway to determine the direct cause of pseudobulbar affect, scientists believe that it may have to do with a nerve disruption within the cerebellum, an area of the brain that controls coordination, including bodily movement as well as expressions of emotion. 

4 Ways to Stop Crying

Crying is a normal bodily reaction and does not need to be suppressed in any way. In fact, there are several benefits to crying, including the lubrication of the eye area to help reduce infection. Crying is also a self-soothing technique.

Research has found that crying stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which can help the body rest and restore. Other research has associated crying with a reduction in pain, thanks to a release of the hormone oxytocin, which may even help boost your mood.

There are circumstances, however, where you would rather not cry and, perhaps, where crying may weaken your mood significantly. In these situations, it can be hard to stop crying even when you very much want it to come to a halt. 

Here are some tried-and-true tips that can help you control your crying quickly:

  • Tilt your head up. Let gravity be your guide by turning your face upwards at the onset of tears to prevent them from falling down your face. As they collect at the bottom of your eyelid, they can reabsorb back into your eye after several seconds to a minute of time. This can also help you focus on stopping crying to prevent more tears from developing.
  • Give yourself a pinch. A good pinch delivered in the skin between your thumb and pointer finger can help deter your thoughts away from whatever is making you cry and refocus your mind to try to stop crying. Tensing up your muscles can also have the same effect—redirecting your focus away from the sad thoughts and toward holding back your tears.
  • Ask a person you’re with to make a neutral face. Research has found that looking at a neutral face elicits less brain activity, and thus emotional response, than a face displaying a certain emotion. If the person you are with is also crying or showing anger, you will respond more emotionally. Having a friend or family member make a neutral face may help you hold back your tears.
  • Try holding your blink. Most people blink an average of 15 to 20 times per minute, but if you try to blink less frequently, it may help cut back on crying. If tears are already underway, blinking more rapidly may help the tears clear away from your face.

When to Get Help

If you think you may be crying more than is healthy, or for reasons that may require therapy or other medical intervention, it is vital that you get the help you need to heal and recover. Crying too often may be a sign of a clinical condition such as anxiety, depression or another type of mood disorder.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, reach out for help immediately: Call a loved one, friend, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which offers free, confidential, 24/7 support.

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