When I get angry/frustrated, I just don't know how to express it. I want to get some sort of relief from it whether by venting or something but I don't know how to express that I am upset about something. I end up not being able to find the words to express it or trying to express it through more passive aggressive means and it frustrates me even more to the point where I just end up crying
How do I make the angry feeling go away without reducing myself to tears?
I don’t have an actual solution, but I just wanted to sympathise. I’m a natural crier. When I get mad or angry or frustrated I just can’t help myself and I end up in tears. It’s most embarrassing if my boss is being critical to me at work. I can feel myself welling up and it just makes me look weak and like I’m taking it all too personally.
You’re not alone sister, hang in there!
Same. I cry for any extreme emotion. I made myself tear up once just thinking about how happy it would make me to feed a giraffe.
So much this.. and it's not even gender related. I am in the exact same position though being a guy. It's a human reaction
My only solution to the work thing is to do math in my head. Even 2+2 and simple math and just keep doing that. It’s not enough to distract me from what they are saying but seems to hold off the stupid minor reactions. If it’s something truly upsetting then it won’t work but helps keep minor, useful constructive criticism from resulting in tears.
I am a never crier. Maybe once a decade. But my husband of 25+years decided he had a different sexuality that he needed to express with other people.
So my boss expressed during a large conference call that I wouldn’t be doing X task anymore, that I would be ‘managing’ things, without a budget or staffing change. My boss is also 2000 miles away, I work remotely, etc. I know that a peer has been lying about how well a project has gone without my position.
We have a regular-is one on one call, my boss and I. After the call where he said my work wasn’t needed, I started crying on the phone.
I’m a tough MF, this doesn’t happen to me! Luckily, I had read a thread similar to this right before my call with my boss. I took a deep breath, told my boss that I was fine and please continue. We had the conversation, I concentrated on listening and being specific. It was really awkward, but we got through it.
Now i’m Kicking ass, being proactive, and pointing out that the project i’m directing has 100 times the amount of users as Liar’s project.
Like so many of us, Rose Armitage, a 20-year-old from Las Vegas, is a crier during arguments.
It doesn’t matter how well-reasoned her points are or how much of the moral high ground she has, when she and her boyfriend start arguing, the waterworks begin.
“I can’t remember an argument in which I haven’t cried, but then I’m generally a crier,” she told HuffPost. “I cried this morning about a hard math equation. For me, I find that in a fight with my partner, I cry because I care. And sometimes because I don’t feel heard.”
Charles Darwin once declared emotional tears “purposeless,” but as Armitage’s example shows, tears aren’t just cathartic, they serve a purpose, communicating when our words fail. We might cry out of empathy for our partner, shock at hearing about something we’d been oblivious to or anger if another’s argument comes across as accusatory.
I’m so bad at confrontation sometimes I even cry during my hypothetical arguments https://t.co/gSgXNk5Pqp
— Cat (@catroseobrien) April 4, 2017
As Time magazine science writer Mandy Oaklander put it, “Tears are a signal that others can see.”
It’s a natural response to high-stress moments, but tears can be a pesky thing when they come mid-argument, especially if your partner sees them as a sign of weakness.
“Many partners grow resentful of the crier and feel that it’s a conditioned manipulation to gain control of the disagreement,” Carder Stout, a Los Angeles-area psychotherapist told HuffPost. “The crier also may be judged as emotionally unstable: ‘Why do you always cry? Get it together!’”
“We might be afraid that the conflict could lead to separation or loss. Instead of standing our ground or speaking our truth, we might be more worried that our partners will leave in the face of intense conflict.”
Why do we cry?
From Stout’s experience working with couples, the crier is usually responding from an authentic place.
“Perhaps they are traumatized, even frightened by confrontation, and the tears are a product of their fear,” he said. “Perhaps they feel that arguments lead to abandonment and they cannot bear even the thought of that consequence and therefore express their fragility.”
While some criers may feel ashamed and weak over their emotional display, “others are healing themselves through tears if they’re supported correctly,” Stout said.
Our inclination to cry may also be tied up in our attachment styles, or the way we relate to others in intimate relationships, said Stacey Rosenfeld, a psychologist in Coral Gables, Florida.
If you’re an anxious type, you’re hyper-aware of even the smallest fluctuations in your partner’s mood or behaviors. You might even consider those changes a personal slight or an indictment of your relationship. And you may get highly emotional and jump to conclusions in the midst of a Very Important Relationship Conversation, especially one that seemingly comes out of nowhere.
“If we’re anxious, we might be afraid that the conflict could lead to separation or loss,” Rosenfeld said. “Instead of standing our ground or speaking our truth, we might be more worried that our partners will leave in the face of intense conflict.” Hence, the waterworks.
Your tears might be met with empathy by a fellow anxious type or a securely attached partner, but they won’t go over well with an avoidant partner, Stout said. The avoidant wants nothing more than to walk away from what they perceive as histrionics. By their very nature, an avoidant type feels unnerved by too much closeness in a relationship; crying is the ultimate clingy offense.
It’s a toxic cycle that will continue to play out if the couple doesn’t learn how to deal with it.
There’s a gender dynamic at play here, too. Culturally, we tend to think of women as criers and men as stonewallers. But as Rosenfeld notes, that’s probably only because women are socialized to avoid expressing anger.
“As such, we often communicate anger in a diluted way, and crying is one way to dilute our anger,” she said. “We might fear, rightly so, how others will respond to our anger, as it could lead to rejection, loss or even violence.”
OK, so how do you bridge the emotional gap between a crier and a non-crier?
In the heat of the moment, don’t be afraid to call a timeout if tears come, Stout said. You know how some couples have safe words they use when sex gets too rough? Come up with one for when your argument starts to get too heavy, too.
Then, leave the room for a bit. Go catch your breath in the bathroom or take a walk.
“I often advise my patients to find a patch of earth and put their bare feet on the ground as a way to let go of anxious energy,” Stout said. “A 10minute break, however you choose to do it, works great.”
You also should come up with a game plan on how to deal with future fights. If you’re the crier, dig to understand what function your tears serve: What emotions lie behind the reaction? What worries or concerns are you trying to convey to your partner?
“Have a conversation with your S.O. when not in conflict about your tendency to cry and what the tears mean,” Rosenfeld said. “This can help them understand why this happens and what it means in the context of your relationship.”
The solution isn’t tear-free arguments for the rest of your life together but rather knowing how to cope with your emotions when the tears inevitably do come.
For Armitage, when a fight reaches a fever pitch, she and her boyfriend try to remind each other that they’re not fighting each other, they’re fighting the problem itself.
“And at this point, my partner is pretty used to me crying,” she said. “Really, I don’t think we should be afraid to cry, especially when you feel conflict creating some resentment. Like I said before, we cry because we care.”
It’s one thing to crave a big meal or a bottomless bag of your favorite snack. It’s another to be so famished that you are irritable and overreact to minor annoyances. That’s the difference between being hungry and being “hangry,” a clever combo of “hungry” and “angry.”
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Whether or not you’ve experienced it, you probably know someone who has. But is it really a physiological phenomenon — or just a grown-up version of crying for your bottle?
The biology of being hangry
“There is a physiological reason why some people get angry when they’re hungry,” says gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD.
“When you haven’t eaten for a while, the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood decreases,” she explains. When your blood sugar gets too low, it triggers a cascade of hormones, including cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone). These hormones are released into your bloodstream to raise and rebalance your blood sugar.
So why am I so hangry?
“The release of cortisol can cause aggression in some people,” says Dr. Lee. “Also, low blood sugar may interfere with higher brain functions, such as those that help us control impulses and regulate our primitive drives and behavior.”
So, there truly is a medical explanation for being hangry. It’s a biochemical reaction due to low blood sugar — not the same thing as being crabby when you’re tired, sick or otherwise feeling out of sorts.
Other consequences of getting too hungry
Why do some people get hangry and others just hungry?
“People who struggle with controlling their anger or who have impulse-control issues may be more susceptible to becoming hangry,” says Dr. Lee. “However, it is unclear if there is an association between having regular hanger and having a personality trait disorder.”
“Hunger comes with various negative consequences, not just anger,” she says. If hunger doesn’t make you angry, it might cause one of these reactions instead:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Poor coordination.
- Susceptibility to making mistakes.
When hanger is a problem
“Becoming so hungry that you get hangry isn’t necessarily a health concern,” says Dr. Lee. “If you’re otherwise healthy, an occasional bout of extreme hunger isn’t a problem.”
However, people who have other health concerns should take steps to prevent hanger. That includes those who are on multiple medications, those who have medical conditions, and those who are underweight or malnourished.
“People who have metabolic stressors, such as diabetes, pancreatic or liver disorders, and adrenal insufficiency syndromes, are particularly at risk for complications or adverse effects of low blood sugar due to inadequate counter-regulatory response,” says Dr. Lee.
If you are prone to getting hangry, take these steps to control or prevent it:
- Eat several small meals throughout the day, or make sure breakfast, lunch and dinner are fulfilling and nutritious.
- Avoid junk foods, which can cause another sugar crash — after they first incite a sugar rush. Nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods are best and keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Have healthy snacks on hand — a few handy snacks inside your purse, car or desk can offer peace of mind if you’re worried about hanger rearing its ugly head while you’re away from home.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
Your body will thank you. And your family and friends might too.
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For when you know you’re way too angry, but can’t seem to turn it off.
Have you seen the animated movie Inside Out? There’s a character in it, Anger, whose head literally explodes every time he gets too worked up. It’s a great visual and it definitely doesn’t seem overly dramatic — we’ve all been there. Spoken over in a meeting, denied a raise or passed over for a promotion after going way above and beyond at work, let down by your partner when you needed them — you can probably feel your anger bubbling up right now just thinking about these things.
But is feeling angry — and expressing your rage — really the best way to move your life forward? Sometimes, yes. In the face of injustice, drawing on your anger may help you to fight for what’s right. According to psychologist Dr. Lauren Appio, anger “gives us energy to defend ourselves and others in the face of unfair treatment.” It’s a valid emotion, and judging ourselves for feeling angry isn’t the answer.
But in your interpersonal relationships, there’s usually a better way to communicate. As the great author Toni Morrison once said, anger is “a paralyzing emotion. You can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don’t think it’s any of that. It’s helpless. It’s absence of control.”
So the next time you start to feel angry and want to soothe yourself, try one of the following expert-approved techniques.
1. Ask yourself if your anger is reasonable.
This may be hard to do in the moment — head on fire, and all of that — but if you can take a few deep breaths and check in with yourself about why you’re angry, you may be able to calm yourself down without invalidating your feelings.
“Before you try to make your anger disappear, see if you can identify what is reasonable about your anger,” Appio tells BuzzFeed. “Would it be okay for other people to be angry in your situation? If it’s okay for them, it’s okay for you. Validating yourself does not mean you are going to lash out angrily. It simply allows you to check in with yourself about what you need and consider how you can get your needs met.”
2. Identify other emotions that your anger may be masking.
Your anger may be standing in for an emotion that makes you feel less powerful, says Appio, such as fear, hurt, or embarrassment. Try to breathe through your rage without acting on it, and talk yourself through the feelings that are buried beneath your anger. “Once you address those other feelings (either through self-validation, changing your situation, or communicating your needs), your anger should subside, too,” she notes.
3. Leave the room.
In her book Anger Management Essentials: A Workbook for People to Manage their Aggression, therapist Anita Avedian recommends “changing your scene” if you’re getting worked up. Leave the room, take a walk outside, just get yourself out of the situation that’s fueling your rage — and then try applying tips 1 and 2 from this list. Avedian says that taking a walk outside is particularly helpful when you’re angry because it releases endorphins, the “happy hormone,” which can “reduce the perception of pain.” If you’re fighting with another person, don’t just leave the room; be sure to tell them you need some time alone and that you’ll be back in 20 minutes (or whatever) to talk.
I am 30 seconds into a discussion with an administrator at my son’s daycare when I feel it coming. I have asked her to watch out for another boy who has been biting my son, but she brushes off my concerns. “It’s just a phase,” she tells me. “It will stop. Besides, the boy who bites is much smaller than your son.”
In that moment when I feel ignored, dismissed, infuriated (because, really, what kind of argument is that? Do we dismiss shooters who are shorter than those they shoot?), my cheeks flush, and I start to cry. Mind you, I’m not sobbing. I’m not hiccuping for air. But it doesn’t matter. I learned long ago that the sudden appearance of tears turns me into someone who is not to be taken seriously.
I’m a crier. Like many people, I cry at funerals and graduations or when I hear a sad story. The problem is that I also cry when I need to confront someone or when I am discussing anything with a foregone negative conclusion. And I am tired of my inability to contain my emotions; I am tired of feeling like a total mess. So I have decided: It’s time to learn to control my tears.
Don’t believe people who tell you that you should just “let it out.” In everyday human interactions, crying isn’t innocuous. While researching this story, I discussed the subject with everyone from academics to acquaintances and learned that there are two distinct groups of people: those who cry too much, and those who are annoyed by them.
Among the latter, the word that popped up most often was manipulative. One researcher reasoned that if children turn on tears to defuse anger, adults surely do, too. And a friend told me about a coworker who seemed to cry to get people off her back. Their stories reminded me of my former boss, who once blurted out that he was tired of being “held hostage” by my tears in budget meetings. (I was eventually replaced by a woman whose neck got blotchy when she was uncomfortable. On meeting days, she wore turtlenecks.)
I’m not trying to be manipulative when I cry—at least not consciously. A 2011 Israeli study published in the journal Science found that female tears contain an odorless chemical that appears to reduce testosterone levels in men; high levels of testosterone are associated with aggression, so one function of women’s tears, it seems, could be to stop men who are on the attack. In those budget meetings where my boss would repeatedly ask me aggressively to justify my spending, perhaps I was only heeding nature’s call.
The Israeli study could also explain the resentment my tears provoked, says Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropologist at Rutgers University: “Once someone cries, the playing field is no longer level. With their testosterone reduced, men feel empathy when perhaps what they wanted to do was get angry.”
But no matter the motivation behind tears, they are rooted in sincere emotion, says William H. Frey II, PhD, a neuroscientist at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and the author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears: “I have never been able to get subjects to cry without an authentic emotional trigger.” (To create tears in the lab, he has had to resort to screenings of heartbreakingly sad movies like The Champ.) You can’t fake tears, which is probably why they’re so hard to turn off.
So how do I stop crying at inopportune times (like, say, when I’m discussing my uterus with my obstetrician)?
Some of the experts I interviewed suggested pinching the bridge of my nose, where the tear ducts are, to stop the flow. But I couldn’t get my hand to my nose fast enough. And though I received excellent advice about rehearsing nontearful things I might say in a confrontation, such as the one with my son’s daycare administrator, that didn’t work, either.
Then Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a cognitive and behavioral psychologist in New York City, told me to take a step back—literally. “It’s not what the other person says that’s causing you to cry,” he explained. “It’s how you interpret it.” I’d never thought of it this way, but Bubrick had hit on something that made sense. I may be frustrated or angry in the moment, but I can decide which insults or slights are worthy of such an outpouring of emotion. Getting to the root of why I well up so easily will probably take a lifetime of therapy, but for now, Bubrick provided me with a practical way to deal with its effects. The trick, he told me, is to remove myself from the drama, even by just a foot, to short-circuit the usual rush of tears.
As I listened to Bubrick talk about the possible effect of something so simple on my mental state, I remembered a study I had come across weeks earlier, suggesting that even our facial expressions can influence how our brains process emotions. Researchers at Columbia University had found that study participants reported having a less intense emotional reaction to a scary video when they didn’t frown during the viewing. Was it possible, since I enter most fraught interactions with eyebrows raised and knitted together, mouth pressed into a frown, that my expression might actually be triggering the feelings that lead to tears? If so, could I really cure the crying problem with a neutral face and a single step away from whatever was upsetting me? It seemed unlikely, but I decided to give it a try.
Two days after speaking with Bubrick, I showed up for a doctor’s appointment only to learn that the doctor wasn’t in. His assistant cavalierly mentioned, without a trace of apology, that he had meant to cancel my appointment but got distracted. Meanwhile, I had hired a babysitter, blown a deadline, and driven an hour through maddening traffic to get there. I felt anger welling up. But instead of getting flustered, I relaxed my face and took a step away from the counter, which felt only a little weird.
“Are you kidding me?” I blinked, tearless.
And then: “That’s incredibly rude.”
It was a small victory—but an unbelievably empowering one. For the first time in 25 years, I expressed a strong emotion without dissolving under its weight.
Since then I’ve been practicing the new technique—in talks with my husband about money, in a minor confrontation with a friend, in meetings with editors. It’s sometimes hard to remember to use the tricks in the heat of the moment, but with every tearless encounter I’m gaining confidence that my emotions won’t get the best of me. I recently made a follow-up visit to my son’s daycare, where I told the administrator I was transferring him to a preschool. When I gave her the news, my eyes were as dry as her heart was cold—and that felt right.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
Why Men Don’t Cry—at Least Not As Much
Women cry far more often than men: 5.3 times per month on average, versus men’s 1.4, according to research by neuroscientist William Frey. Cultural factors are certainly at work—while little boys cry as often as little girls, we know that boys aren’t exactly celebrated for their emotional facility. But there are biological explanations as well. When puberty hits and hormones (testosterone in men, prolactin in women) start to flood the body, tear glands begin to develop differently between the sexes, says Frey. As a result, a man and a woman may experience the same level of emotion, but a man’s body is less likely to produce tears.
I’m a 21-year-old female and I cannot stop crying when I’m in a situation where I feel like others are angry with me, or when I think about people who have died, like my sister. I become angry when I cannot control myself but I don’t know what I can do.
It is unsettling to feel like your emotions and behavior are so out of your control. On top of that, when you become emotional, your stress level increases because you are feeling angry with yourself — which adds fuel to the fire.
When you start to cry and it feels out of control, I wonder what cues you notice in your body BEFORE you start to cry…perhaps you can feel your pulse race, your muscles tense, your breathing change. If you notice those changes before the tears start to flow, that may give you an opportunity to change the direction of the conversation, speak up in an assertive manner, or politely excuse yourself from the interaction until you feel more calm.
You might also consider how crying functions as a “currency” in your relationships — whether you tend to be more tearful in stressful interactions with some people (e.g., boss, parents, romantic partners) more than others (e.g., friends, random strangers). Perhaps your crying tends to diffuse their anger and end the conflict. If so, it might be that you have discovered a shortcut for avoiding conflict. It works to end the discussion in the moment, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issue that is bothering the other person (which means it may come up again and again). Reading some books about assertive communication or working with a therapist who does assertiveness training might be helpful.
Finally, you mention the loss of your sister — this made me wonder if the crying is a new problem for you, or one that has gotten worse since your loss. If so, it might be helpful to seek out a grief counselor or a grief support group in your area. Local funeral homes are often wonderful resources for grief support referrals in the community.
As a parent, you deal with a LOT of feelings on a daily basis. Right? And sometimes, it can all get to be just a little bit much! When you’ve had what seems like hours of multiple people crying at you, the temptation to make it stop is high!
We’ve all said it, or at least thought it. ‘Stop crying! Just stop!’
Or maybe you heard it as a child?
“Don’t be silly”
“Shh, everyone is looking at you”
“Stop that noise, right now!”
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
But what if I told you that every time you dismiss or minimise your child’s feelings, you actually make your job harder. You very rarely succeed at making them stop anyway, and it’s more likely that they will need more support from you in the future rather than less. If you don’t hear the message they are trying to send you, the messenger just gets louder and louder until you do. Children are looking for empathy and understanding. If they don’t get it, they’ll keep trying.
Crying is ok. It’s a very healthy and necessary way for children to express their feelings, and we don’t need to make them stop. By telling them to ‘stop crying’ we send the message that their feelings are not important, not valid, silly, and annoying. If we want our children to learn how to regulate their emotions, and to trust us with their problems and feelings, then we cannot be dismissive of them when they try to do this!
Crying is always appropriate. Whatever your child is upset about is valid. It might seem trivial to you, but a child does not have an adult perspective on the world. Oftentimes people struggle most with allowing children to express their feelings in public, thinking that it is not an appropriate setting and worrying about other’s reactions or judgement. But let’s not teach them they need to quiet their feelings for others. They will eventually learn our unspoken social rules. One day they will know how to deal with their feelings and express them at times that adults consider ‘appropriate’, but the way we support the development of emotional regulation is by empathy and understanding, not silencing.
“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
― Catherine M. Wallace
10 Things to Say Instead of ‘Stop Crying’
Sometimes, even when you know that you shouldn’t tell your child to stop crying, it’s hard to know what to say instead! You might feel like you need to do something, but aren’t sure exactly what. As a child if you were often required to silence your feelings for others, these situations can be incredibly uncomfortable. Having grown accustomed to pushing your own feelings aside, the experience of a child fully expressing their sadness, anger, disappointment, or any other negative emotion can be quite triggering. The good news is, practice makes perfect, and it can actually be quite healing for yourself to be able to support your child through their own emotions.
So, what can you say? Here’s some suggestions!
You could also just say nothing! Sometimes no words are needed and physical comfort or presence is enough.
What NOT to do When Your Child is Crying
Don’t distract. When you distract your child from their feelings, you miss a chance to connect and help them learn the emotional regulation skills they will need in the future. You also send the message that their feelings are unimportant, or too much for you to handle. Children need to know that you are capable of dealing with their emotions so that they feel safe and capable too. It’s also a pretty disrespectful way to respond. Imagine opening up to a friend or partner only for them to say ‘ooh but look at my new puppy!’ or something totally irrelevant. You would likely feel shut down, disrespected, embarrassed, and be unlikely to confide in them in the future.
Don’t punish. Punishment and rewards are not a part of respectful parenting. Never punish, threaten, shame, blame, or judge a child for their feelings!
No but’s. When you’re empathising with your child’s feelings, refrain from following it up with a ‘but’. E.g. “You’re sad because you really wanted another piece of cake, but you can’t have one”. ‘But’ kind of invalidates everything that comes before it. It tries to explain away or fix the feelings. There’s no need to do that. Empathising is enough.
Ask too many questions. When your child is full of huge overwhelming feelings, they don’t have the ability to provide answers to lots of questions. Empathise first, ask questions later.
Say ‘it’s ok’. People are well meaning when they say ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’re fine’, ‘shh’, but the thing is, your child is not fine right now. They don’t feel fine, so even though you’re trying to be reassuring, it can come across as minimising their feelings. A simple ‘it’s ok to cry’ is a better option.
Have a time limit. Don’t use empathy as a technique to ultimately stop the crying. That’s not the goal! The aim is to help your child feel heard, understood, validated, and supported. That might take a while, especially if their feelings have been dismissed in the past. There might be a lot to get out! Don’t try empathy for 5 minutes and then declare it ‘doesn’t work’ because your child is still crying. Empathy is not a technique for control, but a way of meeting your child where they are and supporting them.
Next time your child is struggling with an overwhelming feeling, have some of the above phrases memorised and meet them with empathy and understanding. Because they deserve it. Feelings aren’t something to be avoided, but opportunities for connection.
All parents have been there. You’ve tried feeding, burping, and changing his diaper. You checked for fever. You even checked to see if his socks are too tight! Could it be gas? Is he too hot or too cold? Maybe he’s teething. Regardless, you’ve tried everything you can think of and now you’re starting to stress. He. Just. Keeps. Crying.
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Some babies cry more than others for reasons we don’t fully understand. This doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong as a parent or that your baby doesn’t like you! Many parents have to cope with babies who cry a lot in the early months of life. If you have found yourself bouncing, patting, humming, or soothing a fussy baby, you are not alone!
It’s normal to feel stressed when babies cry.
A crying baby can rattle even the most level-headed person. Why? It has to do with the way our brains are wired. We feel a sense of urgency when babies cry. It’s almost like a fire alarm goes off in our brains. This is nature’s way of making sure we do our jobs: respond to our babies’ needs and take care of them! But what if we’ve done all we can to help, and the crying doesn’t stop? Here’s what might happen for you as your baby continues to cry:
- The “thinking” part of your brain shuts down, affecting your ability to be calm and think logically.
- Your reactions may be panicked, meaning that you feel out of control and are not thinking clearly.
- You may find it difficult to calm yourself down and regulate your own feelings and reactions.
Babies tune into our feelings and reactions.
Atstock Productions / Shutterstock
For better or worse, a baby tends to “tune in” to her caregivers’ emotional state. This means that just when babies need us to be at our calmest so we can help calm them, we are often feeling stressed, frustrated and wound up! Our arms and shoulders are tense, and our facial expressions also may show the stress. A caregiver’s stress can add to the baby’s stress and intensify her fussiness.
Calming yourself is job number one.
The first trick to calming your baby is to recognize that you yourself are anything but calm. Take a moment to name how you are feeling (frustrated, angry, sad, rejected, etc.). After that crucial first step, here are some additional strategies that may help:
- Put your baby down in a safe place (like a crib) and take a break. Give yourself the gift of a few minutes to calm down and attend to your own needs. It’s just like when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting your child. Make time throughout the day to feed yourself, drink enough water, shower, get some exercise, or call a friend. This kind of self-care will help you stay calm and self-regulated. When you are in a calmer state of mind, you are better able to help your baby.
- Try taking deep, even breaths. People often breathe shallowly when stressed, so changing your breathing actually helps you feel calmer. Deep, even breathing sends the message to your nervous system that you are safe, which helps your body start to regulate. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try counting to 10, or putting your hand on your stomach as you breathe to make sure you’re taking deep breaths.
- Sleep. Not surprisingly, parents who report having a baby who cries a lot also tend to report being exhausted. Often, this exhaustion can’t be relieved by just one good night of sleep. Talk to your baby’s health care provider, or your own, if you are experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed, sad, depressed, or unable to care for your baby. New parents need and deserve support.
- Remember that your baby loves you, but is having a tough time right now. Sometimes babies cry or are fussy for reasons we just can’t figure out. But this fussiness is no reflection on your baby’s feelings for you! Your baby loves you and is doing the best she can right now. So, take breaks when you can, ask for help when you need it, and consult with your health care provider if your baby’s fussiness causes concern.
About Baby Steps
This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.