Your question: “Why does anxiety make me want to cry?”

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioural therapy. Anxiety is an unpleasant experience and at the same time, it is an inevitable part of life. The problem is when anxiety becomes constant in our life and prevents us from doing daily activities or makes us feel emotionally down very often.

It is understandable that this makes you want to cry. We can see anxiety as an imbalance of our emotions, and it represents a failure to either elect an adaptive response or to inhibit a maladaptive response given a situation (1).

On one hand there are the external demands and pressures (e.g., work, studies, relationships, etc.) and on the other hand there are our coping strategies (the tools we have to deal with those stressful demands and pressures.

When we feel anxiety or stress, it means that the external pressure is greater than our coping strategies. Therefore, we must work on strengthening those strategies. Think of it like the immune system, when the body’s defences are low we are more likely to get sick. The same goes for mental health, when we feel vulnerable and down, we are more likely to have problems like anxiety, depression and more.

I believe that informing ourselves about how our body and mind works is key to learning how to work and improve it. 

What can you do?

There are several strategies that you can apply to alleviate your anxious symptoms, emphasising that you must first know the origin of them.

Record your emotions

A valuable strategy to work on anxiety is to keep a self-record of emotions. It is known as a “panic diary”(2) but has many other names. Basically, it consists of writing down in a notebook the situations that make you anxious, detailing what physical and emotional sensations the specific situation caused you.

When we experience episodes of anxiety we not only feel like crying, as in your case, we can also feel physical symptoms such as tachycardia and sweating. Everything that goes through your body and mind is important to record in this journal, to understand what are the daily events that cause you anxiety and then work on those events to decrease the symptoms.

Guided Imagery

Another valuable strategy is a relaxation and breathing technique called Guided Imagery (3). In this exercise, in addition to inhaling and exhaling slowly, you will close your eyes, and visualise a scenario that generates calm and happiness, and distracts you from the negative thoughts that come with anxiety. It can be a beach, a mountainous landscape or even a pleasant memory. You will apply this when you start to feel the anxiety episode and the associated urge to cry. This technique takes time and training, so don’t worry if you initially feel that it doesn’t work for you. You need to be patient and try to vary the relaxing mental scenarios so that you don’t get “bored” and it loses its effect. A recommendation would be to look at pictures of landscapes until you find one that you like. You could even print it and watch it until you draw it in your mind when you close your eyes.

Learn to normalise your feelings

Crying is an innate response to sadness, anger or despair, common emotions associated with anxiety attacks. It is difficult to control a natural response, so the strategy should not be to “stop crying” during anxiety episodes, but to decrease the anxiety episodes themselves. Crying is necessary and we should let ourselves go through the emotions, accepting what is going on in our life at that moment, but still, we can work on improving ourselves.

In my experience…

Anxiety is exhausting, but it is also an opportunity to get to know yourself better, identifying your triggers and learning how to deal with them. Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. You can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counselling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads us in the right direction.

Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!