For people of all ages, crying is a natural, important way to express emotions — even when the reason is unclear.
Everyone cries now and again, and a person may cry more on a given day for no clear reason.
If crying becomes more frequent or uncontrollable and there is no apparent cause, consider consulting a medical professional. A mental health condition, hormonal imbalance, or neurological condition may be responsible.
This article explores what can cause frequent and unexplained crying. We also give advice about when and where to receive help.
The factors below can cause a person to cry more than usual or without an apparent reason.
Crying spells are one symptom of PMS. Some related symptoms that may occur shortly before or during a period include:
- depression or feelings of sadness
- tension or anxiety
- irritability or hostile behavior
- mood changes
The body goes through many hormonal changes during and after pregnancy. These changes can influence a person’s mood, causing them to cry more than usual.
Other symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- a persistent low mood
- a lack of motivation or energy
- sleep and memory problems
- a lack of interest in the baby
- a lack of connection with the baby
- feelings of hopelessness and guilt
It can affect a person’s ability to regulate their negative emotions, which may lead to emotional outbursts and crying.
Some other features of burnout include:
- a lack of concentration
- a loss of appetite
- persistent chest pains
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- gastrointestinal problems
Anxiety can make people feel vulnerable and out of control — feelings that can cause a person to cry. If this happens, the reasons may not be clear.
Some other symptoms of anxiety include:
- feelings of impending danger or doom
- difficulty concentrating
- an increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- increased sweating
- feeling weak or tired
- difficulty sleeping
- gastrointestinal problems
Depression is a mental health condition characterized by a low mood that lasts weeks, months, or years.
A person with depression may cry more readily or frequently than a person without it. Some other symptoms can include:
- anger and irritability
- feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- feelings of numbness or emptiness
- low confidence and self-esteem
- a lack of interest or pleasure in past hobbies or interests
- poor concentration
- sleep problems
- changes in appetite
- suicidal thoughts
Some people experience delayed or prolonged grief that does not improve over time. Experts refer to this as “complicated” or “unresolved” grief. It can cause a person to cry suddenly or without warning.
Other symptoms of complicated or unresolved grief include:
- an inability to accept the loss
- emotional numbness
- intense emotional pain
- feelings of personal blame or guilt
- feeling isolated or detached from others
- a loss of identity or purpose
- a feeling that life is meaningless or empty
- suicidal thoughts
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a neurological condition that can increase a person’s propensity to cry. Other names for this condition include:
- emotional lability
- reflex crying
- involuntary emotional expression disorder
PBA occurs because of a disconnect between the frontal lobes of the brain and the cerebellum and brain stem. The frontal lobes control emotions, while the cerebellum and brain stem help regulate reflexes.
A disconnect between these areas can lead to emotional dysregulation, which may lead to uncontrollable crying, anger, or laughter.
PBA can occur as a result of:
- a stroke
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called ALS
- multiple sclerosis, often called MS
- Parkinson’s disease
- Wilson’s disease
- brain tumors
- a traumatic brain injury
Social and cultural factors may also influence how much people cry. A person who is part of a culture that is less accepting of crying and other forms of emotional expression may try to avoid crying to prevent shame or embarrassment.
An older study, from 2011, investigated trends in crying among adults in 37 countries. It found that people living in affluent countries with more extroverted cultures cry more often.
Crying is a perfectly normal way to express emotion. But someone who often cries for no apparent reason may feel worried about crying at inappropriate or inconvenient times.
The strategies below might help a person stop crying:
- pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth
- relaxing the facial muscles
- pinching the skin between the thumb and forefinger
A person might also try a deep breathing exercise, which is a common way to calm and control emotions. It involves breathing in through the nose for several seconds and pulling the air down to expand the belly, then releasing the air through the mouth until the belly deflates.
If a mental health issue is responsible for a person’s frequent crying, they may benefit from the resources and support that the following organizations offer:
- the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- the National Institute of Mental Health
- Active Minds
- Mental Health America
Also, local mental health organizations and support groups are often available. A doctor can provide guidance about accessing these resources.
A person should see a doctor if they experience crying that:
- is frequent, uncontrollable, and occurs for no apparent reason
- interferes with the ability to do everyday things
- is accompanied by other physical, emotional, or psychological symptoms
If the doctor believes that the person may have an underlying mental health issue, they may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. These mental health professionals can help people address and resolve the underlying issues and develop appropriate coping strategies.
If the doctor suspects that there is a physical health issue, they can provide a diagnosis and treatment.
Crying is a normal emotional response to many different factors. However, frequent, uncontrollable, or unexplained crying can be emotionally and physically exhausting and can greatly affect daily life.
This type of crying may result from a mental health condition, such as burnout, anxiety, or depression. It might instead stem from hormonal imbalances or neurological conditions.
If frequent crying for no apparent reason is causing concern, see a doctor for a diagnosis or a referral to a mental health professional.
Meanwhile, many organizations provide resources and support, and a doctor can help a person access those that are most appropriate.