We all have those moments when we want to break down, whether it's because of a toxic friend, a hard day at work, or family drama. As someone who cries when I'm angry or frustrated, I constantly remind myself that crying is a totally understandable response to any type of emotional stress, not just sadness. At the same time, I've been in tons of situations in which crying made everything worse, like when I'm being berated by a supervisor or when I'm arguing with a friend. A lot of people see crying as a sign of weakness, which is something I don't agree with but is not likely to change anytime soon. With that said, here are five tips I use when I'm trying to hold back the waterworks.
1. Focus on your breathing
Deep breathing is my go-to tip whenever I feel my face heat up from embarrassment or the lump in my throat that immediately precedes my tears. I normally suck in a big gulp of air and hold it for as long as I can without getting dizzy. The sensation almost feels like a game and gives my mind something to focus on besides my emotions. Before I know it, my tears have receded and I'm in a better mindset to blink back any remaining tears. It's the perfect tip for when I'm trying to discreetly calm down.
2. Widen your eyes
I'm not sure if there's a scientific basis behind this tip, but widening my eyes always dries up my tears. Exposing my eyes to more air dissipates the tears just enough so that I can feel secure in the fact that I'm not on the verge of crying anymore. That security allows me to steady myself and get into a better mindset to prevent any more tears from gathering.
3. Apply pressure to a different part of your body
Like deep breathing, applying pressure to another part of my body distracts my mind from the situation at hand. I normally curl and uncurl my palms in rapid succession or press a hand into my clenched stomach. The sensation prevents my brain from spiraling into sadness, frustration, or anger — whatever the cause of my impending tears are — and allows me to focus on something unrelated to my crying.
4. Repeat a word or phrase in your head
Repeating a word or phrase in my head is another distraction mechanism, although it's less physical than any of the other tips. The repetition fills my brain so much that I can't focus on the source of my tears. I think of the word or phrase as a life raft that I can't stop repeating until I feel better. My personal favorites are "Okay," "It's fine," and an assorted list of swear words that I won't list here.
Stretching is my last resort because it's more conspicuous than the other tips on this list. Nevertheless, the sensation of contorting my body always takes my mind off of whatever emotional trauma is causing my tears. If I'm holding back tears while I'm talking to people, I normally pretend I dropped something and bend at the waist so that I can stretch my legs without being too obvious. Alternatively, I stretch my arms up over my head quickly. This tip doesn't work in all situations, but it's definitely helped me when others didn't realize that I was about to cry.