Emotional release can help you decompress and feel better when you’re upset.
But in some situations, crying might feel embarrassing or unwanted. Crying at work, for example, can feel humiliating. Before exploring how to make yourself stop crying, take a step back and consider the root of the problem.
Post-COVID depression, mental exhaustion, and sadness are more common than you might think — especially in professional settings. In a 2020 survey on how employees are feeling, less than 30% of respondents described themselves as “good” or “excellent.”
Mental health in the workplace can be hard to manage, and lots of people experience burnout at work. Whether you messed up a project or are facing larger challenges, crying is a natural reaction, and sometimes it happens while you’re still at the office.
And you’re not alone: 45% of professionals have cried in their workplaces, according to a report from Robert Half. The same report notes that 74% of CFOs think crying is okay or has no effect at all on your career (although older, more senior respondents still think it’s taboo).
The historical stigma around showing your emotions is changing, and crying at work is nothing to be ashamed of. Even so, you might not be in a position where weeping is welcome. If you’re in a meeting or have important tasks to complete, crying can put a wrench in your workflow.
Learning how to stop crying when you’re mad or sad — or how to step away and give yourself time to feel — can help you push through difficult situations at work.
Is crying a sign of weakness?
We’ve been socialized to consider strong expressions of emotion as a weakness. But studies show that sensitivity increases empathy and emotional awareness. These are strengths, especially when interacting with others in the workplace.
A good cry also helps your body recover faster after stress so you can focus and think creatively to deal with the issue at hand. Studies also show that holding in your tears is bad for you, potentially increasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and mental illness.
In some ways, crying is actually good for your mental health. Not only does crying provide emotional release, but it helps your brain produce endorphins.
While beneficial, crying at work shouldn’t be taken lightly, and you should still be careful where and when you do it. If you cry around a coworker without warning, they may feel uncomfortable or not know how to respond.
So although crying isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s still important to practice emotional regulation. Find a private place to take a minute for yourself, or let your manager know if you need to call out of work. Use your emotional intelligence to check in on yourself and regroup after intense bouts of emotion.
It may not seem like it, but your emotions can be an asset in the workplace once you learn how to control them. Remember: sadness can have purpose. You just need to know where to find it.
5 ways to stop crying when mad or upset
There are many techniques you can use to restore your control and try to stop crying:
1. Remember to breathe: Deep breathing exercises control blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn calms you down. Try box breathing or other types of breathwork when you feel like you’re going to cry. It can help generate a sense of calm, letting you regain control.
2. Stay cool: Bring a cold glass of water with you if you’re walking into a stressful situation, such as a performance review. When stressed, body temperature can go up. Things that cool you off will help you ground yourself and calm down.
If you’re able to get your hands on one, an ice pack on the back of your neck, wrists, or forehead will do wonders to help slow your mind down.
3. Take a moment away: Politely excuse yourself from the room or switch off the Zoom camera to gather your thoughts, even just for a minute. Putting the thing that’s upsetting you out of view gives you a break from sensory overload and the chance to regain equilibrium.
4. Manage your energy: Playing with a stress ball or going for a walk will let you channel your nervous energy elsewhere. Exercise is associated with lower levels of anxiety, too, so moving often helps manage your emotions in the long run.
5. Let it out: If you’re past the point of no return, find somewhere quiet to cry. Sometimes, releasing that emotion is necessary. Chances are, you’ll feel better after.
You aren’t a robot. There will be times when you’re so overwhelmed by disappointment, bad news, or frustration that you can’t make yourself stop crying. That’s okay — express your feelings and turn crying into a healthy practice.
Tips to address crying courageously
Remember, a few tears won’t greatly affect your career. But if you’re worried about the potential consequences of crying in a professional setting, there are ways to get yourself back on track after it happens. Here’s how to deal with crying at work:
1. Be honest: Confide in your manager or a trusted coworker. You don’t have to go into detail about why you’re upset, especially if it’s a personal issue. But they should know enough to understand your behavior and ease the concerns of other team members.
2. Take accountability: Acknowledge your tears, and if you’re comfortable doing so, explain why you’re having a strong reaction. Studies show that people who attribute their tears to passion are viewed as more competent. If you’re crying because you care, that’s worth sharing.
3. Counteract judgment: You can apologize for crying in front of someone if you feel the need. But other people shouldn’t judge you for showing your emotions. Your feelings are valid, and if others diminish them, let your manager or HR department know.
4. Deliver a positive follow-up: If you’re worried about your reputation after crying at work, remind coworkers of your strengths. Pay extra attention in meetings and let coworkers know you’re there to help them. Demonstrate that you’re resilient, capable, and committed to doing your best work.
5. Plan ahead: Be prepared if you’re about to enter a stressful situation. Practice breathing and remember coping mechanisms that work for you, like bringing a stress ball or counting to 10 to collect your thoughts before responding.
You can also confide your worries to a friend or trusted coworker so they can help you make a plan to deal with potential stressors.
What to do when someone cries
You’re not the first person to cry at work, and you might even see a coworker doing the same thing. Here’s how to help teammates if they’re upset:
1. Let them cry: If they’re in the thick of it, give them space to let out their feelings before asking them what’s wrong. They might ask you to leave, and that’s okay. Don’t overwhelm them.
2. Don’t solve the problem: Your coworker likely needs support, not advice. Only give suggestions on what they should do if they ask. Chances are, they likely just need an active listener.
3. Check yourself: If you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s okay to walk away. Give the crier space to feel. Don’t let your discomfort in this situation affect their experience.
4. Offer support: It’s okay if you don’t know what to do. Gently ask if there’s anything you can do to help cheer them up. Maybe you can fetch a friend who knows them better, or maybe they just need a glass of water.
Your mental health is a priority
Taking care of your mental health should be a priority. And the recent but constant changing nature of work and society has spurred greater levels of anxiety than in previous years.
Everyone cries once in a while, but if your job is affecting your day-to-day emotions, it might be time to ask yourself why. Maybe you need to work on your work-life balance or re-evaluate your career so you can go to work happy.
High-pressure tasks and difficult employees happen in every workplace. But if you’re crying all the time — or more often than you usually do — you might want to think about your office’s company culture.
Constant stress could be a sign that something has to change. If you feel comfortable, talk to your manager or HR department if there are repeat issues.
Remember, sometimes crying at work has nothing to do with work. Life events or larger problems can make their way into the workplace. Maybe you’re grieving a loss or struggling with strained family dynamics. These are normal reasons to feel overwhelmed and struggle to find balance.
It’s possible to take stress leave from work to focus on your mental health so next time you walk into the office, you put your best foot forward. And if it becomes too much, there are some good reasons to leave work — both personal and professional.
And, if you suspect crying is the root of something bigger, consider speaking talk to a professional. Depending on the problem, coaching or therapy will let you work on your mental fitness to be a better version of yourself.
Find comfort in your emotions
Crying at work isn’t the end of the world. When you run into high-stress situations, tight deadlines, and difficult coworkers, it’s natural to need an emotional release. If you feel like you need to cry, step away from the situation — take some deep breaths and let it out.
But if crying is a regular event, be honest with yourself and your leaders. Whether you need some time off or ask to create change in the workplace, communication is key at the end of the day. Only then can you work together to find a solution and bounce back.