Do You Cry Easily? You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person

a highly sensitive person cries

1 in 5 people are born with a trait that causes them to feel emotions strongly — and cry easily.

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 at least 1 in 5 people — including both men and women — are what’s known as highly sensitive people (HSPs). (Many researchers put the nunber higher, at nearly 1 in 3 people!) We HSPs 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.  

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.

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2. We’re naturally more empathetic — and the emotions we pick up on 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 overloaded in an highly stimulating environment — which can lead to tears.

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.)

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

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.

What To Do When You Cry Easily (at the Worst Possible Times)

Crying easily, even as an adult, is not a bad thing — which means it doesn’t need to be “fixed.” In fact, crying might actually be good for you — it means you are processing and expressing your emotions which many adults refuse to do or are unable to do in a healthy way. (Think of how many people “smuggle” their emotions by expressing them only as anger!) According to Harvard Health, crying causes your body to release oxytocin — the “love” chemical you feel when you you’re hugging someone — and endorphins, the happiness hormone which is actually a mild, natural opioid. In other words: crying actually helps fix those negative emotions.

Crying at an inappropriate time, however, can be a problem. If you’re an HSP who cries at work, you probably know to go to the bathroom or another private place to do it if possible. (And you’re not alone — roughly 80% of people say they have cried at work, 20% have cried for non-work reasons, and 1 in 20 say they cry at work everyday, according to a survey by Monster. The reason it feels like you’re the only one who cries is because most of those other people hide it, too.)

If you’re in a situation where you know that crying would be inappropriate, there are ways you can shut it down. The simplest is to press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, which will stop you from crying “immediately,” according to Janine Driver of the Body Language Institute in Washington. Other things you can do include slowing your breathing or fidgeting with your hands or a pen (it grounds you and distracts your mind.)

If the tears are already coming, you can maintain a strong professional demeanor, if needed, by keeping your face neutral, your chin held high, and good eye contact with whomever you’re speaking to. There is something surprisingly boss-like about a person who looks strong and confident even while tears rolls down their face.

Last, remember that some situations are exceptions where it’s okay to cry. If you’re getting fired or just got a terrible performance review, for example, crying at work isn’t the taboo you think it is. You can excuse yourself, cry it out, and take some time to reset yourself if needed.

If you “turn off” your tears, remember to take time to feel and process those emotions later the same day. The emotions need to come out somehow — and the sooner they do, the healthier you will be as an HSP.

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