How to Control Tears and Stop Crying
We have all been in a situation where we suddenly find the tears welling up in our eyes and realize that we are going to embarrass ourselves by crying in public. Whether we are at work or in school, at the movies, or at a social gathering, we tend to try and hold back our tears instead of fully expressing how we feel. Why is that?
Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will understand why we cry, what tears are good for, and how to stop crying. The information comes from a combination of experience and prior knowledge, online research, and from talking to family and friends.
What Are Tears?
If we go back to the what we learned in middle school, we may remember that tears are a fluid produced by lacrimal glands next to the eye. Although we think of them as a salty solution—have you ever stuck your tongue out and tasted one?—they are actually a mix of mucus, oil, and water. Tears help maintain the health of the conjunctiva, a transparent membrane in front of the eye, by keeping it moist. They also have antibacterial properties, thanks to the lysozyme content, an enzyme that kills some bacteria by digesting their cell walls.
How Do Tears Work?
Lacrimation is the scientific term for crying. Simply put, the tears produced during lacrimation are spread across your eye by your eyelids when you blink. You may have noticed that you tend to blink more or want to shut your eyes when you cry; this is to evenly distribute the tears and to help flush them out after.
What Are the Functions of Tears?
Basically, there are three reasons why your eyes may well up.
- Lubrication. You may not be constantly crying, but you are constantly secreting tears—at a rate of about 1 g/day. This helps keep your eyes hydrated so that they function optimally.
- Cleaning. Like wiper fluid and windshield wipers, your tears and eyelids help clean contaminants off of your eye. Tears can be produced reflexively as a reaction to foreign objects or chemicals on your eyes. For example, this happens when things like dust or other particles fly into your eye or when you are cutting onions. As mentioned before, the presence of lysozymes also helps kill bacteria.
- Emotional Response. This tends to make us feel embarrassed as we try to suppress the waterworks, but it is out of our control. Through a complex hormonal response, events that cause extreme emotion—be it joy and laughter or pain and suffering—will cause the lacrimal glands to secrete tears.
Although crying has always been seen as a means of releasing stress, it was Dr. Frey—a biochemist and the director of the Psychiatry Research Laboratories at St. Paul-Ramsay Medical Center—who first called emotionally induced tears “psychogenic lacrimation." Thorough research discovered that tears that were emotionally induced had a higher protein content than tears resulting from irritation. Dr. Frey’s theory is that tears can help remove potentially harmful substances produced by stress.
5 Tips to Help You Control Your Tears
These are preferred ways of getting a grip when you really do not want others see you in an over-emotional state.
- Take deep breaths. it works for anger by giving you time to think, slowing you down and allowing you to reason yourself into a better frame of mind. It works because it slows down your heart rate and relaxes you, possibly one of the reasons why people who smoke feel that taking a deep pull on a cigarette calms them down. Unfortunately drawing on a cigarette is taking noxious chemicals into your body but breathing in when overemotional increases the amount of oxygen you are taking in which is beneficial to you physically and mentally. Breathe deeply through the nose and out through the mouth; count if need be because that will release your focus from what is disturbing you.
- Breathe into a paper bag. Linked to the above; if you fear becoming hysterical and are in a state of anxiety you might find that breathing into a paper bag is helpful. Once more the rhythm assists and in this case you are taking in increased carbon dioxide which causes a calming, drowsy state.
- Focus on a happy or peaceful thought. If you can focus on a mental image that induces a feeling of happiness and peace this is a proven method of calming your mind and holding back the tears. This technique takes time to master and I imagine that in the extreme it can be a form of meditation, but that is not something you are suddenly going to do at the office!
- Pinch yourself. Something I have never tried and have no wish to experiment with is self-inflicted physical pain, of a minor kind I hasten to add. Press your thumbnail into the tip of your first finger. It is a tiny unperceivable action, invisible to others around you but it works in two ways; firstly by distracting you from what is actually bothering you and secondly by forcing part of your mind to concentrate on the physical action.
- Try swallowing hard. Try swallowing hard; by doing so you effectively squeeze your tongue up against the soft palette, constricting the throat and preventing tears.
'We should comfort people without telling them to stop crying,' Dr. Frey observed. 'They do stop crying when they're comforted.'— Jane E Brody, New York Times August 31, 1982
Are You Crying for No Apparent Reason?
This could mean a few different things:
- You've been bottling up emotions. If you've constantly held in your emotions instead of letting them out, perhaps it is a culmination of events that are causing you to cry. You've probably heard it many times before: "Just let it all out!" It does hold some water. All the stresses and burdens you are holding just need an outlet. If you are in a private place, feel free to let out a few sniffles or indulge in a full-blown crying session. It can feel very uplifting after.
- Something from your past was brought up. It could be that something in a movie or TV show sparks some feelings of empathy, or reminds you of a person or event in your life. Music can have similar effects. Media are meant to elicit strong emotional responses in order to fully immerse the viewer or listener in the experience. Use this to your advantage! Try listening to uplifting songs or watching comedy shows to boost your mood. A popular marching song used in London to boost morale during the World Wars is included below.
- Your hormones are fluctuating. Another possibility is hormonal changes in your body. As mentioned before, tears triggered by emotions are brought on by a complex hormonal response—fluctuations in levels of certain hormones may make you more prone to crying.
If you can't seem to find what is triggering your tears, you should definitely discuss it with your family and friends, at the very least, or seek professional advice from a licensed therapist. It may be a deep-rooted thought, feeling, or concern that you are not even aware you have. Someone looking in from the outside may be able to see it more clearly.
Don't Be Afraid to Show Your Emotions
Hiding your emotions and keeping a stiff upper lip has always been the English way. This old marching song that was first published in London in 1915, at the time of World War I. This version shows that it was still popular in 1942, during the Second World War. In today's modern society, showing emotion is becoming more acceptable, although it still isn't seen as appropriate in many situations. Many animals prefer to lick their wounds in private, and human beings are no different.
However, if the situation becomes unbearable, we shouldn't be afraid to show how we feel. Not only will it benefit us psychologically, but it will let others know that you are going through a tough time. Don't feel like you to show that you're strong or that nothing ever troubles you; everyone has or will feel these feelings. In fact, the strongest people are often the ones who embrace their emotions. Likewise, when you witness others in the throes of irrepressible emotion, remember your experiences and be responsive to their needs; they will appreciate your sensitivity as you would theirs.