Crying is a natural response to sadness, happiness, or overwhelm. But some of us can’t deny we cry more easily than those around us. That’s me — as a kid, I remember holding back tears at school, summer camp, sleepovers, and anywhere else with a lot of stimuli. Even though other kids would sometimes cry too, I couldn’t ignore the fact that they didn’t cry nearly as much as me.
As an adult, I’m the same. I cry often when I’m feeling (even a little bit) stressed or overwhelmed, when I’m in physical pain, when I listen to a beautiful song, or when my friends are sad. Or, as just happened yesterday, I may find myself ugly crying in a Starbucks while watching a video about an abandoned dog who was rescued.
People don’t always like it. I’ve gotten everything from good-natured ribbing from friends to outright disapproval, especially if I ever dare to cry in the workplace. (Note: This does not help people stop crying!) But it turns out, my tears are pretty normal. Psychologists believe that roughly 1 in 5 people — including both men and women — are what’s known as highly sensitive people (HSPs). We feel and process our surroundings more deeply than non-HSPs, including physical stimuli and emotional cues.
In other words: We’re experiencing a very different world than everybody else. Emotions really do hit us harder, and many times, that comes in the form of tears.
Being an HSP is considered both normal and healthy — so why do some of us cry so much? Let’s take a look at what’s going on behind the tears. While not all HSPs cry easily, I think there are five big reasons many of us do.
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5 Reasons HSPs Cry More Easily
1. Our brains are wired for bigger emotional responses.
HSP brains experience emotions more vividly than non-HSP brains.
Being highly sensitive is linked to a gene that “turns up” how strongly we experience emotions. This gene also affects an area at the front of the brain, known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which impacts emotional regulation.
This means we can feel our own emotions more powerfully. Happiness, sadness, frustration, and more come on strong for HSPs — and crying is a natural way to process and release those emotions. (Importantly, these strong emotions are still considered normal. If you’re an HSP, it doesn’t mean you have any kind of disorder — and in many cases, your sensitivity is an advantage.)
In other words, crying easily is literally part of our HSP brain’s anatomy. So the next time you’re the only one crying at a sad movie, moved to tears by a beautiful piece of art, or stepping away to handle strong emotions during a stressful project, know that you are functioning exactly as you were designed to.
2. We’re naturally more empathetic — and others’ emotions can be heavy.
Not only do highly sensitive people feel their own emotions strongly, but they “absorb” emotions from those around them. This makes us incredibly empathetic — having the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings.
A 2014 study published in the journal Brain and Behavior found highly sensitive people had more brain activity in certain areas as they looked at pictures of their loved ones. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan participants’ brains.
They found that HSPs — when looking at photos of their partners and strangers making happy or sad expressions — had more activation of brain areas associated with empathy and awareness. They also had greater brain activation in areas involved with attention and taking action.
This is why we may cry more easily after hearing someone’s sad story or empathizing with a loved one’s pain. I believe this part of being an HSP is a true superpower. While it means we can cry more easily when others are hurting, it also makes us incredibly supportive partners, parents, and friends.
3. We’re more easily overwhelmed by our environment.
HSPs are more sensitive to external stimuli and highly responsive to slight changes in our environment. Feeling everything so much more on top of the stressors of everyday life can get exhausting quickly. To others, it might seem like we’re overreacting or getting upset for no reason. In reality, it’s a natural response to processing information so thoroughly.
Personally, this can hit me hard during high-stimuli situations like parties. The loud music, dancing, drinking, and a multitude of other bodies around me can cause a very emotional response — even if I’m thankful to be there. My high sensitivity often triggers social anxiety, which can make me cry if I feel like too many eyes are on me. I’ve been known to step outside for some fresh air or go home early.
4. HSPs may become stressed, anxious, or depressed more easily.
Crying easily can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, or a lot of stress in your life. Since HSPs feel so deeply and can experience sensory overload, we’re more susceptible to strong feelings of depression or anxiety.
We might feel alone in our sensitivity or isolate ourselves to reduce excess stimuli. Plus, small shifts in life can be harder for HSPs since we are more easily startled and have a tough time with change.
As an HSP, I can feel down, stressed, or anxious from small moments that add up throughout the week, like:
- Helping a friend through something hard and absorbing their sadness
- Getting feedback at work that my brain continues to ruminate on
- Being around too many people and needing alone time
- Feeling too isolated and craving deeper connections
- Drinking too much caffeine, which can cause anxiety in some HSPs
- Thinking too much about the future or past
Before learning I was a highly sensitive person, I wondered why it took so little for me to feel overwhelmed by work, relationships, or just… life. I’ve been known to start crying mid-week for seemingly no reason and wonder what’s wrong with me.
But now, I know I’m just more easily overwhelmed — and that’s okay. I know to dig deeper and pinpoint where the stress or anxiety is coming from. Then, I can address what’s causing it.
(If you find yourself crying because you’re stressed and anxious, it can help to have an HSP sanctuary to retreat to. Here’s how to create your own.)
5. We often need more self-care than others — and crying can be a sign.
Much of our society is not built for highly sensitive people. The fast, high-stimuli pace of life can be hard for many of us. Until we understand our needs, we may feel like we need to “toughen up” or avoid our emotions to be less sensitive. Ironically, this only leads to more overwhelm as we try to fit a mold that’s unnatural to us. I find myself crying more often when my daily life doesn’t fit my HSP brain.
This is why self-care — and reaching out for help when we need it — is so crucial for HSPs. If we notice ourselves crying often, it may be a sign we need to address certain concerns in our lives or shift our routine to better fit our needs. (You can find tips for HSP self-care here.)
I used to see my tear-prone disposition as a sign of weakness. But now I know it’s just part of who I am as a highly sensitive person. I appreciate my delicate connection to very human emotions, and I’m no longer afraid to express them. If you also cry easily, I hope you can recognize that beauty in yourself, too.