Tearing up often could be a result of physical or emotional factors. Understanding the reason behind crying spells is important.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 5, 2019. It has since been updated.
Let's admit it. We've all teared up in the oddest of moments. There are times we want to put up a brave face and tackle the situation head-on, and there are times we want to just curl up on the couch and have a good wail. Before we go into the mysteries of human emotions, let's get one thing straight: Crying is not a bad thing. Neither is it something to be ashamed of. Crying can be healthy when it serves as a release for pent-up emotions. Someone who can cry is also someone who is not afraid to be in touch with their emotions. This, my friend, is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Having said that, if you have been crying frequently and you have no idea where it comes from, it is time to dig deeper and look at all possible underlying causes. Frequent crying spells indicate not just psychological or emotional imbalances but physical imbalances as well. Here are six things to assess.
1. Vitamin B12 deficiency and thyroid disorder
If you have been tearing up often, the first set of causes to rule out are physical conditions. Vitamin deficiencies, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and hypothyroidism are a few conditions linked to mood swings. According to the Mayo Clinic, Vitamin B12 (as well as Vitamin B6 and folate) deficiency may be linked to depression, although we need more research to confirm this as a definite factor. Another study published in the Official Journal of the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry found that there could be a positive correlation between Vit B12 deficiency and mood disturbances.
Similarly, thyroid disorder is also linked to depression and other mood disorders. According to a report published in the Journal of Thyroid Research, those with thyroid disorders are more prone to developing depressive symptoms, which include tearfulness and frequent emotional outbursts.
2. PMS and hormonal imbalances
Now is the moment to admit most of us have been there, done that. Yes, that. Crying out of the blue — for no apparent reason — a few days before, during, or after our periods. While we won't tolerate sexist jokes at our cost, we have to admit that some of the GIFs are so accurate.
According to the Mayo Clinic, crying spells, irritability, and mood swings are primary symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The reason for this, as we all know, are the fluctuations in hormones as well as brain chemicals.
3. Stress and anxiety
Stress, as we all know, can make you prone to a number of physical and mental ailments. As explained by the Mayo clinic, when you are stressed out, cortisol (the stress hormone) shoots up. This often puts your body in flight or fight mode, looking out for external factors that could be a possible threat. But what is little known is that constant stress — like meeting impossible deadlines, dealing with difficult people, balancing work and social life, and the negative things we tell ourselves — on a daily basis can keep your body and mind in a constant state of fight-or-flight. This can lead you to feel irritable and emotionally unstable, which can lead to frequent crying.
Another consequence of prolonged stress is an anxiety disorder, which can make it extremely exhausting and overwhelming to get through life and other daily tasks. As Christopher Bergland, author of The Athlete's Way, explains in Psychology Today, cortisol doesn't just make you prone to mental illnesses, but also reduces your immunity and makes you vulnerable to a host of physical ailments.
Here is a quick method to check your stress level. List out the things you do on a daily/weekly basis. Now go over the list one by one and notice how your body reacts. Let's say you think about your kids, your work, your boss, things on your to-do list, and having dinner with your partner. Check if you sense any knots in your tummy, change in your breathing or a rush of emotion that you cannot control. All these are signs your body is giving you that you are on an overdrive physically/mentally and that you need to do something about it.
4. Depression and other mental illnesses
According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), depression has many symptoms and different folks experience it differently. If you notice a lack of joy or interest in things that you previously used to enjoy and it is accompanied with feelings of exhaustion or worthlessness, it is possible your crying spells could be a symptom of clinical depression. For us to feel our best, our brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) need to be in balance. Of the lot, these four are of most importance — Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphin (DOSE). An imbalance in this can lead you to feel depressed and also make you prone to other ailments. Coach Christopher Bergland explains the role of these neurotransmitters on Psychology Today and prescribes simple ways to improve your brain chemistry.
5. Unhealed trauma
Another reason for emotional triggers could be psychological/emotional trauma that hasn't been healed yet. If you have ever been subject to abuse of any kind — physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, or sexual — it is important to heal the wounds it caused. You may have forgotten it, but not healed from it. According to Andrea Brandt, PhD, trauma evokes emotion. Sometimes, unhealed emotional trauma can lie dormant for years and flare up much later. If you find yourself tearing up due to particular triggers, it might be a good idea to talk to someone you trust or a professional, to heal the wounds of the past. Adults who experienced trauma in childhood might find themselves feeling emotional around certain topics, people, or situations.
6. Lack of personal boundaries
If you are in a situation that demands you to do or say things that are not true to who you are, you are likely to feel vulnerable. Personal relationships are the area where we often let go of boundaries at the cost of our mental health. Harley Therapy outlines how poor boundaries can lead to resentment and unhealthy dynamics in relationships. A few questions to ask yourself: Is my relationship equal? Is my relationship meeting my emotional needs? Is my partner making my life easier or adding to my stress? Do I feel valued and appreciated? Am I doing anything that doesn't feel right? Do I feel guilty often? Why? Do I feel I'm not good enough for my partner? Am I expected to do things or be someone that isn't who I truly am? The answers to these questions will tell you if you need to reassess your situation. In this case, crying could be a sign your heart is asking you to put yourself first and do what's healthy for your well-being.