Experts solve five common crying conundrums.

By Julia Edelstein
Updated November 15, 2013
Woman crying
Credit: Peter Hapak

How Do I Stop Myself When I Don’t Want to Cry?

Try taking a short walk. If, say you’re at a meeting, excuse yourself. “Physical movements instantly change your body chemistry and can short-circuit the reaction that was starting, says journalist Anne Kreamer. Another tactic: Look away. “Focus elsewhere, away from the source of your tears. For example, contemplate the lines in your hands,” says Melissa Smith, an actor and the conservatory director of the American Conservatory Theater, in San Francisco. “If you can disconnect from the source that’s causing the tears for 60 seconds while continuing to breathe, you can probably stop yourself from crying.” If all else fails and you know that you’re going to cry, own up to it. Tell your boss or your friend, says Kreamer, “ ‘This could be an emotional conversation, but will you see me through it?’ No one will say no that.”

Why Do I Cry Over Everything While My Guy Friends Remain Dry-Eyed?

The discrepancy may have to do with social forces in Western cultures. Until the 19th century, crying was considered a mark of refinement for men. But with the Industrial Revolution, crying was deemed unacceptable. With hundreds of workers scrunched into tight factories, the foremen realized that they needed emotions to be as controlled as possible. Men have been holding in their tears ever since.

Kreamer’s data suggest that, compared with men, women cry at work about 40 percent more often because they feel they don’t have permission to get angry. “Unlike men, women worry about being labeled ‘bitches,’ ” says Kreamer. Yet, at the same time, adrenaline is flooding the bloodstream, so the default reaction is to cry.

I Cry All the Time. Is There Something Wrong With Me?

According to one study, frequent crying isn’t abnormal. The average woman cries at least once a week, and the average man sheds a tear about 1.4 times a month, according to a 1983 Integrative Psychiatry study. And even if you cry more than that, you’re still probably OK. “People who cry often for emotional reasons are usually just more empathetic toward other people. They identify with people in a wide range of situations and may cry as a result,” says Gerard Donohue, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. However, if your cries come out of the blue—not because you’re depressed, but for no reason—see your doctor to find out if it’s related to a rare neurological condition called pseudobulbar affect, or PBA.

What Should I Do When I See Someone Crying?

If that person is a close friend or a family member, appreciate that he or she is able to cry in your presence. Then, in a small way, let the person know that you’re there for him or her, whether it’s with a gentle pat on the shoulder or a short statement such as “It’s all right. Let it out.” Whatever you do, don’t say, “Don’t cry,” or “What’s wrong?” “People want to be in safe surroundings but allowed to have their experience,” says Jay Efran, a professor emeritus of psychology at Temple University, in Philadelphia. Later on, you can ask what brought on the tears. “But make it clear that you view the episode as a positive experience,” says Efran.

If you see a colleague crying at work, try a more hands-off approach. “You could say, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ ” suggests Kreamer. Then let the person respond. She might say, “I really appreciate that, but it’s OK—I’ve got it,” or “Do you have a few minutes? The most awful thing just happened.”

How Can I Make Myself Cry When I Want to But Can’t?

If you’re looking for release, try this acting technique: “Let yourself breathe freely and deeply,” says Smith. “Then think very specifically about the circumstances that are upsetting you, whether it’s a breakup or a loss. Focus on concrete details. Imagine moments in the future that will be affected by this event. Remember specific experiences that you’ll never get to live again.” Don’t just contemplate the situation as an idea; visualize the concrete details. Tears will ensue in no time.

For more tips, see How to Have a Good Cry.