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Do you cry when you are overwhelmed?

Do you cry when you are overwhelmed?

Guest blog written by Kellie Stirling

When someone cries it doesn’t always mean that they are sad.

I used to cry a lot when I got angry. Then I did a lot of work on feeling safe to feel anger and now I am totally OK with it. Often we cry when we are overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Crying has a neurobiological purpose, it is our nervous system's way of bringing an over stimulated nervous system into parasympathetic - rest and digest mode.

It is literally like our bodies brake saying OK there, ‘lets bring it down a few notches’ when our nervous system is really over stimulated. A LOT of people have tearful responses when they go into fight and flight in their nervous system.

It is totally normal and okay. Unfortunately because we are so bad culturally at dealing with tears, these people often feel shame for crying and will apologise.

I want to say to you, your tears are very welcome if you are sitting next to me when it happens.

Some of the reasons we might get overstimulated and cry:

  • Having a really difficult conversation,
  • When a past wound is opened up during an emotional flashback,
  • When we are so overwhelmed we cannot think of what to say, we literally have lost our words,
  • When a boss calls us in to talk about a difficult issue at work.

Here are some things that you SHOULD NOT say when someone cries:

  • Don’t Cry
  • Why are you upset?
  • It is not a big deal
  • I didn’t mean to make you cry

So what should you do?

The best thing to do is when you are around a person who is crying because they are overstimulated is to try and remain calm and present. You may feel yourself panic a little because you feel you have made them cry. Focus on your own experience, take a few breaths, notice the ground beneath you, your feet on it, you bottom sitting on the ground/chair. Take time to be present.

Just allow the person crying to have their moment, meet them with comfort. This is especially important with kids, we meet them at their level physically (like crouch or sit down with them) and comfort them.

When someone cries from overstimulation, the nervous system messages the lacrimal glands in the eyes, they then produce the tears and this brings the ‘let down’. The glands then speak to other systems in the body. When we meet a person with comfort, this allows the body to produce oxytocin and that creates feelings of trust and relationship building.


When we accept and can experience our own emotions, we can easily cope with what others express. Giving people acceptance for their emotions is a foundational skill for building healthy relationships.

This blog post was written by Kellie Stirling. Kellie is a Somatic Experiencing practitioner and coach who supports individuals going through transitions such as parenthood, mid-life and menopause. 

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