Feeling mad, bad or sad? That's perfectly natural, as is that "I want to cry" sensation that's been building in your chest all day, all week or for who knows how long. Crying is a natural release of stress and other negative emotions, and being able to give yourself the time and space in which to do it is pretty dang healthy. Wanting to cry tells us that we want to feel better, making having a good cry a self-care skill worth cultivating.
Why do we cry?
Crying is natural; we all do it. And it's not just when we see one of those ridiculously moving commercials for soup or because of a breakup. Crying can happen for any number of reasons, and some may be more physical than emotional. In fact, there are three "types" of tears we can cry.
When you blink, your eyes are actually being lubricated by basal tears. This is a liquid your eyes secrete to keep themselves moist. Basal tears are loaded with proteins and are even antibacterial. Without basal tears, our eyes would constantly feel dry and gritty and be much more susceptible to infection or outright damage.
Your eyes are sensitive organs, which you already know, having no doubt dealt with tears streaming down your face after the wind blew the tiniest speck of something into them. Those are reflex tears and are triggered by anything that irritates your eyes. They help flush those irritants out and away.
Then, of course, there are emotional tears. We're familiar with those, obviously, yet even these serve a functional purpose. Studies have shown that crying is a form of self-soothing, one that releases endorphins into our bodies. So wanting to cry isn't a sign of weakness. In fact, emotional tears contain high levels of stress hormones not found in other tears — which is part of why we feel so calm and quiet after a good hard cry. Crying really does let the bad out.
I want to cry, but when is it appropriate?
So, you're stressed, severely annoyed, overwhelmed or even sad. Your system has been running on high for a while now. Part of what you might need to calm down, decompress and get back to normal is a good crying session. Go for it! Crying makes way for the calm and the good vibes to come back in. However, there is a time and a place in which to have your session — and a number of places not to.
Crying in public isn't advisable. Say what you will about being able to openly express your full range of emotions, be it in the social/public sphere or even in the workplace. But crying and other overt displays of strong emotion tend to make other people uncomfortable and disrupt the workday. Their discomfort can, in turn, make you feel judged or self-conscious, which works against the entire purpose of having a good cry. You want to feel better, not alienated.
To make your crying session as therapeutic as possible, do it in a safe and private space. As Timothy Leary said, navigating your experience of an emotional (or, okay, in his case psychedelic) event is all about managing your set and setting. "Set" is your mindset, and going into a crying session knowing you're going to feel better for it is of course important. However, the setting, where your session takes place, is just as crucial. It's far easier to get into your feelings and let it all out when you feel safe. Crying at home or at least in private is the easiest way to get to that safe set and setting.
How to have a good cry.
1. Get over any stigma.
Tell yourself, "Yes, I want to cry. And that's okay." Crying doesn't make you weak or in any way less capable and awesome. It just means you're human and you're going through some things. Having a crying session is doing the work you need to do in order to feel better. It's a good thing.
2. Settle in.
Being somewhere comfortable and private means you'll be able to focus on yourself and nothing else. Crying can indeed be a form of self-care and as such deserves the time and space in which to do it productively. Find where you like to cry. In the shower? In bed? Go to your safe space, and settle in.
3. Name your reasons.
Just because you want to cry doesn't mean you'll be able to start right away. After all, you've probably spent the whole day bottling things up, pushing it all to the side so you could get through the things you needed to do. So, now is the time to take that box you shoved everything into and start unpacking. Acknowledge that you were hurt by something, that you feel angry, scared or overwhelmed. Dig deep, until you find the pain and bring it to the surface. Start by saying, "I want to cry because..."
4. Call in an assist.
Sometimes it's just hard to get the tears flowing, especially if crying isn't something you're yet in the habit of doing. Try watching sad or moving videos, listening to some deep music or digging up an old memory that always triggers a strong emotional response. You know yourself and what gets to you. Use those things to help you start crying.
5. Let it happen for as long as it wants to.
"Crying session" is a neat term, but the process is far from cut and dried. You can schedule a session but not an end time. You might think a quick cry is all you really need, then once you start, you realize there's a lot more in you than you imagined, and it needs to come out. Never cut your session short. It takes as long as it takes.
6. Don't be quiet.
No, you don't have to wail and sob — unless, of course, that's exactly what you need to do. The point is to cry naturally and with whatever level of intensity you're experiencing. Nobody is watching you, and nobody is judging. Make sure you aren't judging yourself, either. Embrace how you feel and how that feeling comes out of you.
7. Know when you're ready to stop.
Just as you shouldn't restrict yourself as to how short a crying session "should" be, knowing when your cry has run its course is important. You've reached a good endpoint when you feel cleansed and maybe a little empty, in a good way. Those videos or memories you used to get you going can be turned off or put away at this point. There's no need to push yourself to cry more when doing so will make you feel worse and not better.
8. Begin to process and recover.
You've been on a bit of a journey during the course of this cry. You're definitely in a different place from when you started. A good cry is beneficial, but a trip like that is also taxing. When you're planning a session, take into account the fact that you're probably not going to feel like doing anything really active or social afterward. Instead, plan on an evening in, perhaps processing and journaling or even crying before bed. A good night's sleep is an excellent follow-up to a productive cry.
9. Repeat as necessary.
Learn what "I want to cry" feels like to you. Healthy self-care management systems begin with self-awareness. Learn your triggers and stress responses and how that heightened emotional state really feels inside yourself. Remove any stigma you have against crying, and focus on learning how to give yourself a good healthy cry. That way you can do it whenever you need to. You might be surprised by how much better you feel for adding all of this to your toolbox.
5 steps to take if it's something more serious.
Chronic bouts of crying, being simply overwhelmed by your emotions and unable to stop — or maybe even confused as to why that "Oh god, I want to cry" feeling is hitting you at all — can be a sign of more than just temporary sadness and upset. These may be signs of serious depression or a depressive episode. Here's what to do if you feel that might be the case.
Sadness is temporary and situational. Stress from work and issues in your personal life are things that can make you feel sad. But chronically feeling down, with low energy and maybe even feeling like you have the flu — all without being able to pinpoint an exact cause or causes — is a sign of potential depression.
2. Write it all down.
Keep track of your symptoms, how you're feeling from day to day and all the things you say to yourself during times when you feel down. How we talk to ourselves is a major influence on our moods. Being caught in a cycle of "I'm terrible at everything" is hard to spot when it's happening. Having a journal to look back through and use to evaluate emotional trends helps you see the signs and symptoms of depression a little more clearly.
3. Talk to your doctor.
Even if you're not sure what you're dealing with is depression, sudden crying spells over the tiniest of things, or even for no reason, are a sign that something isn't right. Maybe it's anxiety, maybe it's exhaustion or maybe it's something else. Maybe it really is depression. Whatever the underlying cause or causes, consult your physician so that together you can make a plan to deal with this.
4a. Find the right medication for you.
Some causes of depression are purely physiological. Emotional triggers and high stress will worsen symptoms, of course, so dealing with them is important. But adding medication into your self-care regimen will help you feel more balanced and emotionally even. Finding the right anti-depressant and the right dosage is a trial-and-error process. You and your doctor will work together to find what works for you, so you can feel more like yourself.
4b. Consult a professional.
A therapist or other wellness professional will help you work through the underlying emotional and psychological causes of your depression. Going to a therapist isn't easy. For many of us, just admitting we need help is hard. And the work you'll do there won't be fun -—but it will help you understand why you feel the way you feel and what to do about it.
5. Make necessary life changes.
Address the external sources of your depression. High-stress work environment? Consider switching jobs or even transitioning into another field. Burnout can cause depression, and both are a sign that you need to change your lifestyle. Changing jobs, becoming more aware of the quality of company you keep, assessing your living situation and modifying your diet and exercise routines are all ways to address and lessen the causes and severity of your depression.