Hi, I'm Jess, and I'm a crier.
I don't mind being a crier, most of the time. I like to think it's a nice thing that I sob my way through the first Christmas advert of the year while everyone else rolls their eyes and mutters something about "the capitalisation of pagan holidays".
Crying at everything gets annoying when I'm in a serious situation. See, I don't just cry at silly things; I also cry when I'm arguing, when I'm asking for something, when I'm scared and when I'm sick. Sometimes, it can lead to a positive outcome (who do you really want to give that priority boarding to: Johnny Businessman or the poor girl crying her eyes out because of turbulence?) but sometimes, it's really f***ing frustrating.
Take, for instance, the time I decided to ask for a raise at my first real job. I built myself up for weeks through a series of 'you deserve this' pep talks and wild imaginings of how well the situation was going to go. "How can I help you?" my boss, a fellow grown-up professional woman asked me, when we finally met. I didn't even manage to get the first 'I' out of my mouth before I burst into tears and started hiccuping something about how I thought everyone else was getting paid more than me and I was really sad. I leaned in so far, I toppled over and fell on my face.
Confrontations and arguments are something I avoid – because they make me cry. Most people wouldn't think twice about having a go at a good mate who missed your birthday party "because she was tired" but I'll often let it slide, because the moment I try and chastise her (quite frankly shitty) behaviour, the floodgates will open and I'll go from nonchalant and pissed off thirtysomething to a simpering child who appears to have overreacted beyond all comfortable means. In situations where you need to stand up for yourself, crying can often take you from standing on an equal footing to your opponent to just handing them the ball, your racquet, and the whole damn court.
There's a hugely valid argument that we view crying at work in a negative light because the workplace has been male-dominated for so long. Women are too often characterised as 'emotional' (stupidly seen as a negative trait for many years), and crying in the workplace reinforces this sentiment among the morons looking for a reason to deny women their seat at the head of the table.
However, while everyone – male or female – should celebrate crying and being in touch with their emotions in their personal life, crying at work in situations where you're supposed to stand up for yourself can be a hindrance.
Cara Alwill Leyba, author of Like She Owns The Place, a book aiming to help women learn self-confidence, agrees: "When we get too caught up in emotions in the workplace, we cloud our ability to think clearly and be solution-oriented. It's important to create enough space between ourselves and our work so that we can avoid taking things too personally and stay in a place of peace and positivity."
Life coach Ben Edwards goes further and says that when we cry, it can demonstrate "putting your weapons down". It can be perceived, he says, as "almost giving up within the negotiation".
And so I am trying to learn not to cry at times when I need to be Together-with-a-capital-T and ask for what I want and, more importantly, deserve. (Don't worry, I am not and will not ever give up my right to cry at the end of all and every well-acted BBC period drama.)
To figure out how not to cry, it's probably worth figuring out why we do cry. It's an area of science that doesn't have hugely definitive conclusions. We know it's a physiological reaction, like sweating (i.e. we can't help it – great) and it has been theorised that, because we're the only species that routinely cries, it's an advanced form of communication, "aimed at soliciting assistance, comfort and social support from others". Still more research suggests that it's a way of soothing ourselves in times of trouble.
"Typically, we cry in high intensity situations because we're feeling some heavy emotions: sadness, anger, or frustration to name a few," says Cara. "Crying can signal our 'breaking point' and our tears can sometimes feel like a release of those pent-up emotions that we have not been able to express."
"We sometimes don’t know how to channel our feelings in a tough situation and therefore turn to actions rather than words," Ben agrees. "Crying replaces any need for communication as it’s often easier, and sends a powerful message to the person in conversation that we’re struggling to continue."
Okay, cool. But when the tears are pricking at my eyes and the panic is setting in, how do I tell my tears to eff off? I've spoken to criers, actors and confidence coaches, and delved into scientific studies in a bid to find what works best to keep those tears at bay in a tough situation.
This has been my go-to so far. It's not 100% effective but it can work for smaller attacks of welling up. Rolling your eyes up to the ceiling isn't exactly subtle, but it can prevent the gathering flood of tears from spilling over, at least until you can get to a place where you can safely dab away the excess residue.
The act of blinking is used to sweep the eye and restore it to its regular state so it makes sense that excessive blinking will help curb crying. From the (must-read) September '07 issue of Optometry Today:
"Blinking is also important in tear drainage, which is an active process mediated by the contraction of the orbicularis oculi muscle. Tears collect at the medial canthal angle assisted by the medial movement of the lower lid with each blink. They are drawn into the superior and inferior puncta, and then enter the lacrimal sac via the canaliculi. From the lacrimal sac tears drain into the nasolacrimal duct and into the nasal cavity."
Essentially, more blinking helps drain tears – do that.
Tap your forehead
I've not tried this one but model Jen Dawson swore by it in a now-deleted YouTube video and, judging from the comments under that video, it worked for loads of people. Tap that forehead, and breathe.
Pinch yourself (not hard)
Administering (light) pain is by far the most popular way people stop themselves from crying. One person recommended that I "bite my tongue or pinch my arm". Just something to get your brain to focus on the sensation of pain instead of the sensation of crying. But before you start carrying around a peg in your pocket with which to pinch yourself discreetly, remember it doesn't necessarily have to be pain you use as distraction. "The crucial element to this is physiology," says Ben Edwards. "Shifting the conversation, our mindset and body movements is vital to changing our emotional state. Accessing the feelings of the brain enables a change in thought, distracting ourselves from the original topic. Body movements such as lifting up our heads, bringing the shoulders back and giving eye contact are simple ways to reset and begin over." So shake your head vigorously, swing your arms, tickle your palm – whatever will distract your brain from giving the signals to cry. Or, if you must, pinch; just not too hard.
Roll with it
From Reddit user VR46: "Take that 'cry emotion' when it starts to swell inside you and picture yourself holding it at arm's length in the palm of your hand, like a pool ball of emotion, and analyse it, accept it, and then let it pass through you without any resistance. Don't fight it, don't run from it, don't picture naked old people or beaches... live in it. Invite it in and then kick it the fuck out when it's not long [sic] useful to you."
Oh my God how boring is it when someone advises that you 'breathe' in answer to your problems. So annoying. Seriously though, here it's going to help. Deep breaths in and out will help slow down your body, which is in the throes of a physiological response, having set off its stress triggers, increasing the flow of oxygen and sugar to the muscles so they're ready to be used. The increase in oxygen manifests itself in several ways: "Blood flow to the muscles is increased by making the heart beat harder and faster, and by decreasing blood flow to the internal organs; absorption of oxygen into the blood is increased by making the lungs breath faster; and air intake into the lungs is increased by opening the throat and mouth." Swallowing with this open throat is what causes us to feel like we've got a lump there when crying. Breathing deeply will help lessen these symptoms.
Grace, a recent graduate of a prestigious acting course, says that overcoming emotion was a huge part of her training. "We focused a lot on breathing," she tells me. "To stop yourself crying, the key is to distract the brain. When you feel yourself about to cry, you need to instantly change your breathing. Use your breath to push the need to cry out." She continues: "Focusing on your breathing can help stop your emotions flying off the handle."
She does, however, have another trick up her sleeve. "In very serious cases I have pinched my thigh to stop myself crying."
Don't beat yourself up
Look, crying happens. Sometimes it happens in situations we don't want it to. It can be frustrating, and annoying, and make you feel like you've let yourself down. But most people have been there and aren't going to write you off because you've shed a few tears. No-one is in control 24/7; nor should they wish to be. Emotions are part of making you the excellent human being you are and if crying is part of that, so be it. If you can't face a meeting with your superior, you can always send an email instead, or try and get your tears out on someone you trust first. But if you do cry in front of someone important, remember it's unlikely to be the first time they've seen another person do this – they're not heartless, and they will give you some leeway. So get out of the situation, take a walk around the block and give yourself a pat on the back for attempting a difficult conversation in the first place. There's plenty more time for you to head back in and give it another go.