Crying can happen for a fast array of reasons. We might cry when we’re sad, when we’re happy, when we’re frustrated, when we’re scared – it’s one of the most widely recognised physical emotional responses. Seemingly, it can come out of nowhere, having built up inside, so it’s no surprise that it’s a common physical symptom of anxiety.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Spontaneous Crying?
There are a few reasons why anxiety might contribute to us crying for seemingly no reason. First of all, when our body is in fight, flight or freeze mode, the rational part of our brain, our prefrontal cortex is shut down which means we can’t problem solve or evaluate the situation, we just have to act. This can be scary and distressing, which produces an emotional response.
Another reason is that in this survival mode, we’re also hypersensitive to any changes both in our body and in our surroundings. This is designed to keep us safe and alert to any perceived threats, but in reality it can be pretty overwhelming. There’s so much going on that we struggle to focus and our physical symptoms, which feel much larger in our hyper sensitised state, don’t make the process any easier.
Finally, when our brain releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, it causes a chemical imbalance that has been linked to emotional outbursts, such as spontaneous crying. This is because the release of these hormones affect other hormones already at play, like when pregnant people are stressed or worried, even mildly, it can elicit an extreme emotional response – that’s because of the hormone cocktail going on.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and allow it to become deeper and longer. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational brain to kick back in and regain a hormonal balance.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.