Why Am I Crying for No Reason? 5 Things That Can Trigger Crying Spells

Take some deep breaths: Here are a few potential reasons you may be feeling out of sorts lately.

why am i crying for no reason?: woman furrowing her brows and crying, while a friend sits in the background looking sympathetic
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

That moving story on Queer Eye, the first dance at a wedding, or that heartbreaking animal welfare commercial — you know the one. These are all perfectly understandable reasons to cry. But if you've ever just been sitting in traffic waiting for a light to turn green and suddenly started weeping...well, that can be jarring. You've likely wondered "why am I crying for no reason?" (or what surely feels like no reason) in those moments.

Frequent crying spells can be short bursts of spontaneous, out-of-nowhere (sometimes anxiety-provoked) tears that tend to strike when you're just going about your life. Yet they likely leave you fairly confused, asking yourself "why do I feel like crying?" or "why am I ~really~ crying, actually, right now?"

First of all, no, there's nothing wrong with you. "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 find yourself in a crying spell for no apparent reason fairly often, this list can help you decode the potential health reason behind it. Just know that this is not an exhaustive list by any means, and seeking help from a loved one, confidant, therapist, or doctor is encouraged to deal with your individual triggers, emotions, or possible underlying issues. (

5 Possible Reasons for Why You're Crying

Hormones

As you surely know, the days leading up to your period can cause a rollercoaster of emotions. 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, crying spells. If you're already stressed out or anxious, PMS can magnify those feelings and make your crying episodes even worse, says Thomas. You can wait it out — PMS symptoms clear up as your cycle moves on — or if the crying is cutting into your quality of life, ask your doctor to screen you for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS that impacts about 5 percent of pre-menopausal women, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.

Getting enough sleep, taking it easy on the alcohol and caffeine, and integrating more self-care might help make PMS more bearable so you won't have quite so many, "why am I crying for no reason?!" moments. Also worth noting: No matter what time of the month it is, having female hormones means you're more likely to deal with crying spells, period. Testosterone (a hormone normally found in higher levels in male bodies) tends to tame tears, while prolactin (generally in larger supply in female bodies) may trigger them, according to the American Psychological Association.

Depression

Bursts of tears caused by sadness — kind of a no-brainer, right? However, when sad feelings linger for weeks or months, that may signal a deeper kind of dispair seen with clinical depression. Depression often comes with many other symptoms such as severe fatigue, lack of enjoyment from things you used to like, and sometimes physical aches and pains, too.

"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," she suggests.

Extreme Stress

Okay, everyone gets stressed, but if you aren't facing these work and life pressures as they come and sweeping your tension under the rug instead, it's no surprise you're suddenly streaming 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, it certainly can be an answer to why you may be crying. Excessive stress can make physical symptoms worse or even trigger them in the first place; everything from digestive distress to heart disease.

Give yourself some grace if this is why you're crying — shedding some tears while stressed can actually be a good thing. A study published in the journal Emotions found that getting teary while stressed can be a mode of self-soothing, helping you calm down and regulate your heart rate. (

Anxiety

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 everyday life? Anxiety might be the reason for your crying spells. "Anxiety disorders are not uncommon among women, and all the emotion they cause can result in frequent explosions of tears, even when you're not feeling panicky," says Thomas. Medication and/or cognitive therapy may help, so it pays to ask your doctor for help if you think your crying bursts might be linked to an underlying anxiety disorder. (

Fatigue

Newborns cry when they're sleepy, so it stands to reason that fully-grown humans might do the same sometimes. Crying spells, irritability, and sadness were all linked to sleep deprivation (in the four- to five-hour-a-night range) in research published in the journal Sleep. Anxiety and stress can increase feelings of exhaustion (when your brain or emotions are in overdrive, no wonder), but you can also just be tuckered out by a night or two of sub-par sleep.

Each person's sleep needs vary, but start by bumping up your bedtime by 15 minutes each night until you can allocate enough time for seven or eight hours most nights, the amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for adequate R&R. And if you're struggling to get to sleep, try following these expert tips for getting a better night's rest.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or text 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.

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