Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/6/2022
If unexplained crying is part of your daily life — or even if it’s just a semi-regular part of your life — it can be quite jarring.
And while you may feel like you’re crying for no reason, there is almost definitely a reason — you may just need to suss it out. Amongst other things, excessive crying or uncontrollable crying can be a sign of a mental health condition or a neurological condition.
And because tears for any reason — even when it’s actually for no reason — can affect your quality of life, it’s important that you get to the bottom of what’s causing these strong emotions.
If the crying you’re experiencing feels like it comes out of left field, you may think it’s for no reason. But there’s almost always a reason — it just may not be obvious the way it is when you cry at a sad movie or because someone hurt your feelings. Here, some reasons behind why you may feel like you’re having crying episodes for no reason.
Depression is a fairly common mental health issue, and it can cause people to cry unprovoked. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (which is the most recent report available) found that more than 21 million adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode during the previous year.
Clinical depression is thought to be associated with low levels of certain neurotransmitters — whose job it is to convey information between your neurons — in your brain. In particular, depression seems to be associated with levels of serotonin, which is known as the “happy hormone.”
Symptoms of depression include:
Constant feelings of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness
Feeling irritable, helpless or worthless
Low energy or tiredness
Physical symptoms, like changes in weight
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
The sadness and other emotions brought on by depression can lead to bouts of uncontrollable crying. If you’re experiencing any signs of depression, you should reach out to a mental health professional.
Another mental health condition that has some similar symptoms to depression is bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder. People with this condition tend to experience really high highs and very low lows. During the latter, they may have crying episodes.
Like depression, anxiety can lead to emotional tears. Also like depression, it’s a common condition. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that more than 40 million Americans are affected by an anxiety disorder.
There are five types of anxiety disorders. They are:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): If you have a difficult time managing your anxiety more frequently than not over a six month time period, you may be dealing with GAD.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD):OCD is marked by repetitive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): People who go through traumatic events — like a natural disaster, sexual assault or military service — may develop PTSD.
Social anxiety disorder: People with social anxiety disorder feel overwhelmed in social situations.
While these anxiety disorders have some different symptoms, they can all be overwhelming — which can lead to uncontrollable crying.
Hormonal shifts — like the types that happen during pregnancy, right before your period or during menopause — can make you emotional and induce some crying spells.
But there’s one medical condition associated with hormonal shifts that may really make mood swings and tears pop up. It’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This condition affects women the week before their period. Basically, women with PMDD are extra-sensitive to hormone spikes during that time and may find that they cry for no reason.
There’s also a neurological condition that is associated with unexplainable crying. It’s called pseudobulbar affect and it’s characterized by outbursts of crying or laughing at inappropriate times.
This condition is sometimes misdiagnosed as a mood disorder and it affects somewhere between 2 and 7 million people in the United States. It’s not exactly known what causes this condition, though it has been linked to brain disorders or a traumatic brain injury.
Therapy is often recommended as a way to treat both depression and anxiety. One type recommended for both mental health conditions is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If you decide to participate in this type of therapy, you will pair up with a mental health professional to identify behaviors that amplify your depression or anxiety and come up with ways to stop them.
Medication is another treatment option for depression and anxiety, specifically antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Commonly prescribed antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and more.
If you find yourself crying for no reason and think it may be due to depression or anxiety, the first step in getting treatment is to speak with a mental health professional.
PMDD is not curable — but you can manage it. If you are diagnosed with PMDD, a healthcare provider may suggest you take birth control pills to help regulate your hormones.
In some instances, you may be prescribed antidepressants to help manage PMDD.
Unfortunately, a cure for pseudobulbar affect doesn’t exist. That said, it can be managed.
Antidepressants are often used to manage symptoms. Another medication sometimes prescribed to deal with this condition is Nuedexta, which is a combination of dextromethorphan and quinidine sulfate.
The truth is, most people don’t actually have frequent crying spells for no reason — the reason just may not be super-obvious.
So if you’re crying and sad for seemingly no reason, it might actually be because of a condition like depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety and medical conditions like premenstrual dysphoric disorder and pseudobulbar affect.
Luckily, these conditions can all be treated, most commonly with medication and/or therapy. Once you seek treatment, you should notice that sad feelings and unexpected crying no longer affect your everyday life.
If you are experiencing crying for no reason, the first thing you should do is speak with a healthcare professional.