Anxiety, stress, PMS, depression, thyroid issues, and more can lead to crying. What is causing your sobfest?
Muscle cramps, stomach rumblings, energy slumps—your body has dozens of ways to give you a heads-up that something’s not right. One of the stranger signs of a health issue? Frequent crying spells. These short bursts of spontaneous, out-of-nowhere (sometimes anxiety-provoked) teariness tend to strike when you’re just going about your life (and of course, have no sunglasses to cover up your blotchy eyes). Yet they likely leave you fairly bewildered by what they could mean (Do I have depression? What's wrong with me?). “Crying spells can have a physical cause, but they also indicate that you’re built up a lot of subconscious emotions you aren’t processing,” explains Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles–based psychologist specializing in relationships and self-esteem. If you get weepy for no apparent reason, this list can help you decode the health issue behind it—plus how to turn off the waterworks.
The days leading up to your period should be called hot mess week: as levels of estrogen and progesterone swing up and down, brain chemicals responsible for mood are affected, and that can trigger irritability, moodiness, and yep, bawl sessions. If you’re already stressed out or anxious, PMS can magnify those feelings and make your crying jags even worse, says Thomas. You can wait it out—PMS symptoms clear up once your flow shows—or if the spells are cutting into your quality of life, ask your doctor to screen you for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a rarer and way more debilitating form of PMS.
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Crying because you’re sad—kind of a no-brainer, right? Thing is, though feelings of sadness that persist for at least a couple of weeks are a sign of clinical depression, the condition also reveals itself in other ways. “Many women display depression as frustration, anger, or irritability,” says Thomas. “Each of these emotions can result in tearfulness, so if you experience them, see your doctor for a depression screening, even if you don’t necessarily feel down.”
Okay, we’re all stressed. But if you aren’t handling work and life pressures head-on and instead sweep tension under the rug, it’s no surprise you’re exploding in tears, says Thomas. “Set aside some time and really ask yourself what might be stressing you out so much, and form a plan to tackle it head-on,” says Thomas. Though being stressed itself isn’t a formal medical condition, excessive stress can make physical problems worse or even help bring them on, everything from digestive distress to heart disease.
Find yourself in panic mode a lot of the time, with a racing heart, butterflies in your stomach, and extreme self-consciousness that limits your participation in normal life? These might be the reason you’re weepy. “Anxiety disorders are not uncommon among women, and the all the emotion they cause can result in frequent explosions of tears, even when you’re not feeling panicky,” says Thomas. Once again, meds can help, so it pays to ask your MD for tests.
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