What To Do When You Feel Like Crying At Work


Woman stressed at work

Adobe Stock / Panumas

Profile Picture
Ber-Henda Williams
May 19, 2024 at 8:28PM UTC

There are many expectations and pressures on women in the corporate environment: they are expected to commit to a 40+ hour work week, be mothers, caregivers, wives or significant others, mentors, friends, miracle workers, counselors, and more. The balancing act can often feel off-kilter, though, and while many offices have adopted a business casual wardrobe, Blue Jean Fridays, or a work from home model, there is still silent expectation of resilience, dexterity and above all composure in the face of stress and adversity.

For example, most jobs only allow you 1-3 days for bereavement. So how do we navigate grief? How we do manage caregiver stress or parenting woes? Where do we find workplace sanctuary? Like we do everything else we need: We create it. We can create sacred ground and counsel in the office. Big girls do indeed cry, and should be allowed – in a fashion.

True tales of cubicle chagrin

I was called to my manager’s cube once because of a faux pas. I had been given a task that was “mission impractical” and yet charged to make it happen. I had made the best of the challenge with best practices, leveraging support from my colleagues and giving it my all.  Internally, I was fighting insecurity in my abilities, my concern for grandmother who has dementia, the stress of running my girls’ program, and my fear of not being present for those who really matter most. While in the cubicle of shame, my eyes began to well…and the voice inside my head said, “Don’t cry…don’t cry!”

The well turned into a flood, and the tears slid out of both corners of my eyes in synchronicity.  There we were: my manager and me, and human emotion at the tipping point (sigh). Running wasn’t an option, and explaining would only make things more awkward. I stood there. She asked the inevitable and most appropriate question: “What’s wrong?”

I told the truth: “I was placed in situation where the outcome would not be favorable for either party, and I am dealing with family stress and it is a bit much right now. I understand that this could have been handled better, however there was not a way for me to do better given the circumstances and it is compounded by my grandmother’s situation.”

I gave her some of my approaches to how I was going to resolve the matter.  Then I went to the bathroom to collect myself.  I felt embarrassed, weak, and incompetent.  I looked in the mirror and questioned myself. But why, really? I am human, even if I have been placed in a fast-paced environment where multitasking is the norm and masking is the expectation.

After that, I had to revisit my core values and beliefs, and decided that I would “get to be myself” everywhere. Thus, the concept of “Corporate Sanctuary” was born. I needed a place of refuge in the business sphere.  Here’s how I did it:

Identity safe harbors

There are people and places in the office or building that are “safe.” For example, the really nice man or woman at the deli downstairs who smiles and always has a kind word. I have also always had “work moms” who looked after me and let me vent, or an office-mate who let hide out until I could collect myself.

Also, there is no harm in seeking the quiet floor or atrium where you can sit for five minutes, put in headphones to listen to a YouTube meditation or inspiring talk. Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, or Lisa Nichols get me going or calm me down. Take deep and intentional breaths. Closing the door to your office for a period of time can also give you what you need to breathe. The walk away can be the best way.

Yoga, book club or volunteering

Start a yoga or book club at work.  Try pitching it to your VP or HR Department. You will be surprised at the response. Try doing it just once a week to give you something in the work week to look forward to. You may find you have a colleague who is a part-time yoga instructor willing to teach, or to recommend DVD’s. Starting a book club may also help workplace fellowship; book clubs typically meet once a month, and they can inspire great conversations. Books have a way of opening us up, and who knows who may share your viewpoint?

Also, create or plug into volunteer efforts that your company offers that support the community. Giving back not only helps others, but can make you feel good.

Play architect to your day

We take all of our feelings, thoughts, emotions and experiences with us, including the workplace. So before bed, “brain dump” into journal. Write out all of your thoughts and feelings about the day, so that they aren’t roaming around your subconscious. Our dreams are our brain’s way of trying to figure out what plagues us during the day. So the less stuff running around that beautiful mind of yours as you slumber, the better. Own where you are and how you feel, but don’t wallow.

When healing from a loss, separation, or divorce, things can be particularly trying. These kinds of experiences can bring up all kind of triggers for you. Small things from the printer being out of toner to not making the quarterly budget can set you off. Therefore, setting intentions for the day and writing down what you are grateful for can support you in major ways as you move through your routine.  Connecting with a higher power at a place of worship or community can provide you the anchoring you need. Above all, there is nothing wrong with seeing a licensed counselor to support you.

These are just a few suggestions about coping. There may be no crying in corporate, but there is definitely room for heart.  We are humans, not machines. Male or female, we have emotions. As women, we thrive in community, have boundless expressions of our inner self, and our feelings are not a weakness, but rather a strength. Honor who you are, by not hiding who you are. If you ever find yourself with tears on deck, don’t apologize…ask for the tissue and keep it moving!

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up!


A version of this article was originally published at SharpHeels.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always