How to prevent/stop tears?
September 30, 2005 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know any techniques to avoid tears when they're on their way? Is there anything to help staunch the flow of tears - both physical and mental strategies? For either happy and sad occaisons? Or is there absolutely nothing one can do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help you with stopping them, but I have a great trick to minimize the appearance of having been crying if you are in public, like say, at work and you've just bawled your eyes out in the bathroom:

Put the biggest, grinniest smile on your face possible. Hold it. Really stretch those cheek and eye muscles. Like magic, the puffiness and redness goes (almost all) away.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:00 AM on September 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

This is a toughie to answer because I think it depends very much on the wider nature of the person involved. In my own case I was a fairly emotionally sensitive child but I was raised in a "crying is for weaklings" environment. I learned to control it largely through the social embarrassment which follows public displays of tears in such an environment.

Let me say right now that unlike many people from such backgrounds I do not think this is a particularly bad thing. To this day I find public weeping to be an embarrassment and something rather shameful in an adult. Not in myself, because I don't do it: in others. I expect you will receive some answers saying, basically, "don't fight it, it's natural, let the tears flow". That's an opinion, certainly, but not one I share and from the tone of your question I suspect its not one you share either.

So, I think that those who are prone to tears and who wish to control them need to find the counter-emotion that works best. In my case it was social embarrassment and self-disgust (borne of peer pressure to some degree, but not entirely). I know of other people who have successfully used anger to fight back tears, but there are obvious side-risks with that one. Yet other people of my acquaintance tell me that they can make their minds go blank and use an almost meditation-like technique to simply empty their minds of thoughts until the emotional tide recedes. Try closing your eyes and taking deep, steady breaths while trying to clear your mind in this way.

So, some sort of displacement thinking is what seems to work. Find something you can think about or make yourself feel which causes other emotions to shore up the dam.
posted by Decani at 5:06 AM on September 30, 2005

I can't remember where, but I've read that abstract thought is a good antidote to tears. I wish I could find the reference so as to explain the phenomenon. Try memorizing and reciting an abstract poem in your mind, or using your imagination to construct an abstract visual scene to focus on.

It's worked for me.
posted by cior at 5:37 AM on September 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

Make a fist and press your fingernails into your palm. Or bite your lip hard (not so hard you make it bleed though, that won't help matters. Causing yourself a little pain to focus on can sometimes stop the tears.
posted by amro at 5:50 AM on September 30, 2005

If possible, sip some water (or liquid of your choice). I don't know why, but it's very difficult to cry and drink at the same time.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 6:23 AM on September 30, 2005 [3 favorites]

Step away from anyone who you're with so that you're alone. Squeeze your nose, take a DEEP breath through your mouth. Stare into your eyes in a mirror and assure yourself that you're going to keep it together.
posted by TurkishGolds at 6:29 AM on September 30, 2005

Look up and rapidly blink.
posted by LadyBonita at 6:40 AM on September 30, 2005

Wow, spooky! I've been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately. I tend to be emotional / empathetic / prone to tears and constantly wonder if there's something I can do to cut it out.
I don't see any real harm in showing emotion, but the concern that it causes other people, or worse yet the "what the heck's wrong with you" responses are worth trying to get handle on things.

Thanks for asking this question!
posted by sarahmelah at 7:00 AM on September 30, 2005

it's very difficult to cry and drink at the same time

You don't listen to much country music, do you?
posted by Who_Am_I at 7:36 AM on September 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I kind of yell at myself in my head (e.g., "Oh shut up, stupid."). May not be the healthiest approach.
posted by yerfatma at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2005

I learned this the hard way: if the tears come, and you just blink them back furiously, they have to go somewhere. That "somewhere", in my case, was down into my nasal passage and out my nose.

I discovered this when walking down the aisle at my wedding. I hadn't expected to get so emotional. So I had a big trickle coming out of my nose. I'm just hoping it was dark enough in the church so that people couldn't really see it, or else they have been polite enough not to mention it.
posted by ambrosia at 8:04 AM on September 30, 2005

I used to be a wedding planner and would advise all my brides as they started down the aisle to keep their tongue pressed firmly against the roof of their mouth. This seemed to keep the tears at bay pretty effectively.
posted by justonegirl at 8:11 AM on September 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I kind of yell at myself in my head (e.g., "Oh shut up, stupid.").

This always makes it worse for me, and I most definitely end up crying if I take this route. Always.

I'm in the "bite the inside of your cheek" school. Or, I'll look away and focus intensely on something else ("oh, look, whoever painted this room got a drop of paint on the floor all the way over there in the corner. These walls are a bizarre shade of green. I think I'll have a tuna sandwich for lunch today. Etc etc etc).
posted by AlisonM at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Someone told me once that if you focus on bringing your thumb and index finger as close together as possible without letting them touch, it will stop you from crying. I've had mixed results with it, but it's worth a try.
posted by bonheur at 8:51 AM on September 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I used to be a wedding planner and would advise all my brides as they started down the aisle to keep their tongue pressed firmly against the roof of their mouth.

*Now* they tell me!
posted by ambrosia at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Wow, what a great question. I am a crier, although it's getting beter.

-Pain works. I tend to bite my lip.
-Deep breaths.
-Drink water.
-Think about something else for a minute, something dumb and unrelated. Tell yourself a joke, do some mental math, just mentally walk away from the subject that's making you upset.
-Physically walk away too. But don't go in the bathroom - that just makes it easier. Walk briskly around.

-Mantra: whatever it is that's making me upset. . . I will get through it.
posted by mai at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2005

I learned this trick when my dad died, and I had to deal with everything in a rational manner:

Look around the room and silently name the color you're seeing. Don't think about what the thing is--that's too much work. Just name the color. Repeat until calmer, along with deep breaths.
posted by frykitty at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

I guess I'm with the let-it-out crowd... if I need to *really* cry (say someone's died or something), it physically hurts to hold it back... it hurts my throat and my chest. I'm more for excusing yourself to the restroom or someplace else you can get a little privacy, pull yourself together, and then return. Splashing my face with cold water seems to help the puffiness and redness too.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:00 PM on September 30, 2005

This isn't exactly a "how to stop crying" tip, and I don't know if this applies to your situation, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway in case it's helpful.

I used to cry a lot in all sorts of situations. I considered it a big problem. I tried various techniques to choke it back but very few of them worked. Often I felt as embarrassed and disgusted at myself as Decani describes, but that sure didn't make me stop. The best method I found was something like frykitty's: give myself a very easy, gentle task. But even that wasn't 100% reliable.

Whenever I felt tears approaching I'd start to feel extra stress, because I knew suddenly my crying would in itself draw lots of attention and become a sort of meta-problem running on top of the problem at hand.

Eventually I realized that much of the problem was that many non-criers have no idea what it's like to cry.

Some people don't realize, or can't quite believe, that it's an involuntary physiological response to an emotional trigger; rather, they think that it's something you do to communicate a state of all-out emergency. Similarly, they may not realize that secretions and throat constriction don't mean you've "lost it"; you may still be thinking perfectly cogently. And often they think there's something they're supposed to do, but they don't know what it is, and that makes them feel awkward and helpless.

So I decided that I'd take the lead and explain. I resolved that as soon as I started to feel teary, I'd interject. I'd say something like "I have a tendency to sniffle and choke up when topics like this come up. It isn't an emergency; I'm still listening and there's nothing you need to do."

This won't wash in absolutely every social situation, but in most of mine it worked amazingly well. Not only that, after a whihle I found myself crying much less often, because there wasn't so much weight attached to those beginning feelings of tears and constriction. I guess I still cry a little more easily than some people, but no longer so much that I worry about it.
posted by tangerine at 5:43 PM on September 30, 2005 [5 favorites]

Big, wide open eyes to keep the tears from spilling as they well up. Don't blink.
Deep breaths. Think about how in 10 minutes you're probably going to be over whatever is making you want to burst into tears now. Why not just skip all the sadness right to where you're ok with it? Then pretend you're ok with it until you are actually ok with it, or at least enough not to cry in public.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:27 PM on September 30, 2005

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