How to Control Tears and Stop Crying

Updated on February 28, 2017
Alison-Jean profile image

I am British, born and raised in the Midlands, but for most of my adult life I have lived in Egypt.

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. Even if the tears are simply spilling over and we can wipe them away, it is simply not done to "lose control" in this way, and we feel bad about it. It could be at work, out on a date, or at the cinema sparked off by a scene in a movie. Even "tears of joy" at a wedding or christening may take us by surprise and turn on the waterworks, as the expression goes.

What are tears and why do they cause us such social confusion? Those are questions that scientists are beginning to answer. How can we stop them from causing us public embarrassment and concern to the people around us? Well, people use different methods to manage that, and I’ve been asking around so that I can share those methods with you.

What are Tears?

If we go back to the very little learned at high school about tears the answer is that tears are a fluid produced by tear glands. 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 chemicals in the form of mucous, oil and water. The vitamins and minerals contained in this secretion help to maintain the health of the thin, transparent membrane, the conjunctiva, by keeping it moist. One of the important constituents of tears is an enzyme called lysozyme, which kills bacteria.

How do Tears Work?

The process of tear secretion, lacimation, is simple. The fluid is spread across your eye by your eyelids when you blink, which is why we blink to wash away our tears. Tears help to remove, foreign substances from the eye, as do the eyelids and eyelashes.

Different Functions of Tears

Basically there are three types of tears serving slightly different functions. The first, already discussed, are those which are the common lubricant which help to keep the eye healthy and is secreted at the rate of up to one gram every twenty-four hours. Next we have tears which are a reflex action, again as a form of protection, to irritants such as dust, tear gas, onion, coughing, or even sunshine. Finally, and the one which is such an embarrassment to us all and which we would prefer to suppress are the emotional tears that occur sometimes when we least expect them and make us feel vulnerable and out of control.

5 Tips to Help you Ward off the Tears

These are preferred ways of getting a grip when you really do not want others see you in an over-emotional state.

  • Deep breathing: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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; by doing so you effectively squeeze your tongue up against the soft palette, constricting the throat and preventing tears.


The Root Cause of Crying

If you can’t stop crying perhaps you need to have a good weep to release the tension. Restraining emotion can lead to greater stress so if the option is available to you just find a place to let it all out and cry. If you are at home the bathroom is a good place, you can turn on the shower so that the noise will hide your sniffles, or wails if that is the case!

Seriously though there are different reasons for crying and you need to recognize what it is that ‘starts you off’. It could be something in a movie that sparks off feelings of empathy, or reminds you, consciously or subconsciously of a person or event in your life; even something far back in your childhood can have emotional repercussions.

If you suddenly find you are crying a lot it could be something you need to discuss with your family, friends or partner. In this case the longer you hold back the more difficult it will become to do just that and it indicates a deep dissatisfaction with your situation. If you really have no one you feel you can talk to it is time to see a doctor who might recommend you to seek help from a specialist or an organization.

Another possibility is hormonal changes within your body of which you are otherwise unaware. Again that is something you should check with your doctor.

Emotional Crying Investigated

Although crying had always been seen as a means of relieving stress it was Dr. Frey, a biochemist and director of the Psychiatry Research Laboratories at St. Paul-Ramsay Medical Center who first called emotionally induced tears “psychological lamination” and through research discovered that tears which were emotionally induced had a higher protein content than tears which were a result of irritation. Dr. Frey’s theory that tears help rid the body of potentially harmful substances that are caused by stress is now supported by indirect evidence. '

"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)

In Times of War Popular Songs Helped People to Repress their Sorrows

Hiding Your Tears

A stiff upper lip and keeping your emotions hidden has always been the English way, as can be seen by 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 perfectly acceptable although still not appropriate in many situations. Many animals prefer to lick their wounds in private and human beings are no different. However, if the situation, whatever the situation, becomes unbearable, we sometimes have to show how we feel, and there are times when it is beneficial to others to see that you are upset to the point of tears, otherwise how will they know how affected you are? So if you really can't hold back and you need to vent your feelings, do not feel embarrassed or ashamed, just remember that at some time or other everyone has felt that way. Likewise, when you witness others in the throes of irrepressible emotion remember how you feel at a time like that and be responsive to their needs; they will appreciate your sensitivity as you would theirs.

Are You a Cry Baby

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What is the Effect of a Stanger's Emotion on You

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How Do You Feel about Crying in Public?

Do you feel embarrassed when you cannot control your tears in public?

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    • profile image

      Marie 7 months ago

      Hi ive always had a problem where I cry at the slightest thing and I can never ever control and hold back my tears which means im always crying in public and people can see my true emotions.. Does anyone know why this is. X

    • Alison-Jean profile image

      Alison-Jean 23 months ago from Egypt

      So sorry to hear you've been upset, but you know what, don't let it get you down. Tears of pain and frustration when you feel you have been misjudged or wrongly accused of something are something many of us go through. The important thing is that you yourself know the truth of the matter, so hold your head high! You might like to try Euphrasia I mentioned to compu-smart for the dry eye problem-it works for me.

    • profile image

      kritika 23 months ago

      I cry at small things ...when someone blames me foe things I have not done..m!! Because of crying now my tears have dried up..and my eyes have become so weak and dry that its hurting me.and having trouble with vision...!!

    • Alison-Jean profile image

      Alison-Jean 3 years ago from Egypt

      Hi there compu-smart- sorry to take so long getting back to you. Fortunately where I live that's not a big problem; land of sunshine. I don't know if this will help During Spring when we get dust storms I use 'euphrasia' (eyebright) twice a day-herbal or homeopathic remedy, both good. Other than that I can only suggest goggles!!

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 3 years ago from London UK

      No answer for me! BOOHOO!

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 3 years ago from London UK

      Hi Alison-jean.

      I never ever ever ever cry...... unless..... someone close I know has died, A sad moment in a film or cartoon, or when I laugh too much. The problem I have is when ever I leave the house my eyes always water for about 5 minutes even in the lightest of winds.

      I find it very embarrassing because people must think I'm crying.

      I try to not make it look too obvious by pretending that something is in my eye by looking at my tissue inspectively every time I wipe. Any tips please.?

    • Alison-Jean profile image

      Alison-Jean 3 years ago from Egypt

      To be affected so deeply to the news we see and hear on the media, or simply from life itself is what makes us human. Now that I am getting older I allow myself the freedom to express those emotions-when you are younger you often have to be strong for others. Thank you for your comments. It's wonderful to evoke a reaction.

    • profile image

      Jackie 3 years ago

      I find myself crying a lot, it seems like I feel the pain so deap. I cry when happy, sad, hear or see bad news on TV,when someone is mistreated. I just feel so deap in my heart the pain. I believe I am putting myself in their place. It effects me so bad. I wish I could handle situations bettter, and not let it get to me .

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I find that for some reason lately I become tearful for no reason at all. I suppose I have to speak to the family and try to find out what is going on with me. I never used to get emotional, maybe it is just old age!

    • profile image

      Natalie Ratclif 3 years ago

      I don't like crying in public. My mother tells me that I am weak when she yells at me and I break down. I just need to learn how to control it when she gets angry. You advice will help I am sure.

    • Alison-Jean profile image

      Alison-Jean 3 years ago from Egypt

      Don't worry about it! Yes, of course it can be embarrassing, but sometimes you can't avoid showing your emotions, and sometimes you shouldn't even try. Often it is a necessary emotional release; if you feel bad enough to cry the chances are that afterwards you will feel better. Don't make it worse by beating yourself up about it!

    • profile image

      Mockingjay 3 years ago

      I always cry at the wrong time. Like today I cried in public it is so embarrassing I rushed home. I've cried in public another time but I had my sunglasses on (I think ppl could still see my tears through them) I've even cried In front of people I really dislike such as teachers or people I thought were my "friends" . I wish I could stop crying In public it's so embarrassing and I'm pretty sure it looks pathetic when you're a 16 year old crying in public.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      An interesting subject. I do seem to cry more readily than I used to, and I find I am more emotionally sensitive as I get older. I don't think it's such a bad thing, but appreciate the tips on controlling yourself in public. My best technique is the distraction method - I try to think about something else like what I'm making for dinner later, or if I'm getting tearful watching a film I remind myself that it is not real and that the people are just actors.