How to have crying sessions to cope with tears that seem unending
You just experienced a death: your loved one passed, a miscarriage, a marriage or relationship ended, and you can’t stop crying. Maybe it happened a month ago or a year ago.
The pain is raw and crippling. Your throat is sore from screaming. Your eyes are swollen, and you can’t catch your breath.
It was my mama’s death in late June 2018 that catapulted me into this realm of uncontrollable tears. I was broken. Frozen in shock for a week before the tears arrived quick and fast like a summer downpour and then took a hiatus for five months.
When they resurfaced, they were unstoppable.
I was crying every day for hours.
Many days, I was sprawled on the splintered hardwood floor of my 9x9 bedroom in Harlem alternating from fetal position to crawling on all fours. The tears were relentless, the sounds wild and guttural.
I was a walking mess. Crying anywhere and everywhere; on crowded subways, produce aisles, and banks. Everyday things like green peppers now had the power to trigger a crying bout.
The crying was unending, embarrassing, and exhausting.
I did not know if I was going to die or ever feel normal again.
After about a month of this, I had had enough. I was trained as a conscious breathwork facilitator and had been helping clients who were experiencing rough patches in their lives and decided to use my skills on myself.
For the next five months, I deliberately immersed myself in my grief by performing daily 90-minute crying sessions based on research: a desperate deep dive into the work of grief experts, spiritual mentors, books, articles, and personal experience working with clients.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
— Washington Irving
Each crying session was gnarly and messy: snot spooling, saliva dripping, and bloodshot eyes.
I remember not being able to breathe. Hyperventilating. Many times, I cried so hard I vomited.
During this entire process, I could not find a single guide that provided me with practical resources that would help me cope. As a result, after over three years of proactively engaging with grief through crying sessions, I decided to write this article in the hopes of helping anyone who is currently experiencing uncontrollable tears.
Anyone wondering if something is wrong with them or if it would ever end.
It was a long and arduous journey, and I am glad I had the courage to go through it because in facing my pain, I was able to give my grief a voice, a shape, and allow it to transform and express through poetry. It became known to me.
Crying sessions helped me create a metaphor for the unspeakable and unbearable and have become an indispensable tool in my grieving journey and afford me a sense of safety and control in life which will always include death, heartbreak, and uncertainty.
This is not another feel-good article that is full of fluff and platitudes delivering minimal results. The grieving process is not easy… but coping with uncontrollable tears by creating deliberate time and space to immerse yourself in crying will help you feel more in control in a situation that feels insurmountable.
Your grief will be unique to you and I don’t claim that this will be one-size-fits-all.
My hope in this article is to provide you with practical resources that will empower you to move through this profound heartbreak and excruciating pain that has found you.
When you do a google search on ‘crying session’, the first thing that comes up is a Medium article written by Dawn Teh. In the article, she explains that a crying therapy session is one where a group of people come together to watch sad movies or listen to sad stories as a means of inducing tears.
This is not what I am referring to.
To me, a crying session is just my name for what I did: setting aside time and space to let the tears flow. I would tell people I was not available between 6:00 pm and 7:30 because I needed to cry.
During my grieving process, it became increasingly clear to me that although everyone alive will experience the death of a loved one or a painful loss, no one has taught us how to cry.
How to grieve.
And this absence of education is what makes us fear our tears: the depth of anguish feels bottomless.
When I decided to start my crying sessions, they served as a container to collect my tears. A safe space that gave my sorrow a bottom and could contain the weight of my grief. With each session, I began to regain a modicum of control and stability in my life.
All-in-all, I would say a crying session is a form of remembrance, an act of self-love and compassion that a person can use to support their process of grieving and help them process and integrate an ending in a way that enriches them and honors what was lost.
“Tonight, all the hells of young grief have opened again… for in grief nothing stays put. One keeps emerging from a phase but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats…. The same leg is cut off time and time.” — C. S Lewis
In grief, although your journey will be unique to you, there are some aspects that are universal. Below is a list of experiences you might have during a crying session.
- It will be messy: There will be snot, saliva, and mucus mixed in with tears. Your eyes will be bloodshot, your face will get puffy and contort into grotesque shapes. You might find yourself on your knees in a pool of bodily fluids.
- Screaming: You might scream and make sounds that you don’t recognize as coming from you. Your throat will get sore and scratchy, and you might lose your voice.
- Headaches: You might feel like you perpetually have a whopping headache because you are constantly crying.
- Exhaustion: You will feel physically depleted. Crying is hard on the body and takes a lot of energy and releases stress hormones like cortisol which makes you exhausted.
- Hyperventilation: Vigorous crying will increase your heart rate and cause you to hyperventilate which will make you feel like you are struggling to catch your breath. Hyperventilation also reduces oxygen the brain receives leading to an overall state of drowsiness.
- Dehydration: Your mouth and throat might feel be dry, and you will be thirsty.
Before we get into how to have a crying session, I want to get rid of some common misconceptions about crying in grief.
Myth 1: Something is wrong with you because you are crying every day
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” — William Shakespeare
Your grief is your grief. I have heard of people crying nonstop for days only stopping in-between to pee and drink something while there are others who don’t cry at all. For some, the crying lasts for weeks, for others it is months. How your grief manifests is normal for you.
Myth 2: Your bouts of crying will last forever
“… Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
— Psalm 30:5
At first, it might feel like you are crying continuously, but over time, the waves will come less often, and it will eventually even out. Most people still cry years after, but the frequency is usually more spread out. The sharp edges of pain soften and mellow. The crying will eventually get manageable.
“Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as rites of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness.” — Rose-Lynn Fisher
There are three main parts to having a crying session which I will walk you through in detail in this section.
Part 1: Preparation
Decide the logistics of your crying sessions. For example, how often are you going to schedule a session, and for how long? You might decide to have a crying session once a week for an hour or every day for 15 minutes.
Of course, in the beginning, the tears will be spontaneous, and you can use the steps here whenever they arrive. As you set aside time to consciously cry, you will notice that the tears will become more manageable.
Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of choosing where tears come. I remember an avalanche of tears ambushing me on a busy street in NY on a warm Saturday. I quickly jumped into a new age store and dissolved behind a statue of Buddha.
There I was with a wet face, smudged mascara, and a whole lot of shame and embarrassment as I tried to swallow the tears.
In case this happens to you, here are some quick tips to help you manage the tears until can get to a safe space.
Tips to manage crying in Public
- Always carry Kleenex and tissue with you
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths
- Blink your eyes
- Try to relax your jaw and facial muscles
- Bring your awareness to your feet to center you
- Recall something repetitious like a prayer, a poem, or a song
- Sip some water or yawn to help the lump in your throat go away
2. Creating Sacred Space
Prepare a space that feels safe for you in your house. It could be your bedroom, living room, or any other space where you feel you can cry without feeling self-conscious. You can choose to have a picture of your loved one in the space, or some other sacred objects that represent your loss. You can also choose to light a candle, use some sage or incense to clear the room and make the space feel sacred.
If you don’t have a private space because of roommates or thin walls, for example, you can always cry in the shower with hot water flowing.
Things you will need:
- Keep comfortable clothes like sweats that can allow you free movement and comfort in a place that is easily accessible to you.
- Keep a box of Kleenex handy as you will need it. It might also be helpful to get some lozenges or teas like peppermint tea to soothe your throat at the end and some water so that you don’t get dehydrated.
3. Grief Inducing Technique
In the beginning, you probably don’t need to induce tears because they will most likely be on the surface, but over time, as you have more crying sessions, if you need some help, try using a sad song, a picture, or a memory to induce grief.
4. Dosing Technique
To turn down the volume of your grief if it feels too overwhelming in a crying session, use the 4–7–8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Weil who describes it as a “tranquilizer for the nervous system”.
4–7–8 breathing technique
- With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight.
- This completes one cycle. Repeat for three more cycles or until you feel centered.
If this feels too difficult, try a 4–4–4 pattern instead.
If there is a specific smell, sound, or object that soothes you and instantly calms you like the smell of lavender, a picture, a blanket — have that easily accessible to you. Everyone responds differently to sensory input so experiment and see what works for you.
Here is a playlist I created to help soothe you during the session, but feel free to modify or create one that works for you.
Part 2: The Crying Session
When you feel the tears coming or are ready for a crying session, use the steps below to give your tears a container so that you feel safe.
“We must turn towards our experience and touch it with the softest hands possible.” — Francis Weller
1. Change into comfortable clothes, light a candle, and take out any sacred object you want to use. You can also set an intention for the session which can be as simple as “I intend to be open to whatever comes knowing that I am safe and held”. You can also do an invocation depending on your beliefs. e.g., invoke your ancestors, God, nature, etc.
2. Go to your safe space and allow yourself to surrender to the tears knowing that crying is a normal reaction to the enormity of your loss. Use a grief-inducing technique or this playlist if you need to stimulate the tears.
3. Self-soothe by using this playlist to hold you throughout the process and by wrapping yourself in a blanket, holding any object like a teddy bear, a pillow, lying in a loved one’s arms if there is someone around who you trust.
4. Allow sounds: Wail and sob loudly if you need to. Allow the level of intensity you are feeling to be expressed vocally. Scream if you need to. Cuss. Go guttural. Acknowledge all as they arise and let the pain speak through your lips. Don’t hold back.
5. Allow yourself to move: Crying is a whole-body experience. Embrace whatever movements want to come through. Let your body move how it needs to move. Let it thrash around like a fish flopping. Let it curl into a fetal position. Let your fists pound the floor, the bed, anything. Allow your pain to speak through your body.
6. If you get overwhelmed at any point and feel like you cannot catch your breath, use the following grounding techniques to center you and contain the big emotions.
- Bring yourself back into the present moment by identifying 5 things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
- Bring your awareness to your feet.
- Use the 4–7–8 breathing technique
7. Cry until your body naturally begins to slow down. Stop and drink water if you need to, wipe your nose, or just catch your breath. Remember that you cannot cry forever, and your body will naturally turn off when it is ready. Try not to cut yourself off. It takes as long as it takes.
8. Close the crying session by simply blowing out the candle if you had one or thanking any forces that came to support you on this journey.
Part 3: Reset and Reflect
Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis… It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.” — Rose-Lynn Fisher
When you feel complete, you can do the following to help you reset and reflect.
- Take a warm bath or shower to help you relax and soothe the puffiness of your face and clear your sinuses.
- Drink water to hydrate.
- If you have a tension headache, try using an ice pack or massage your forehead. If the pain persists or is too intense, try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Drink something warm and soothing like peppermint tea to soothe a sore throat.
- Take a moment to write/journal about the experience and any insights that you had.
- Make a drawing or painting, write a poem, a song, doodle, or any other creative process that can represent the experience. When we do this, we take the chaos of grief and shape it into something in the world, no longer trapped in the body.
- Keep a diary of your crying episodes to track the triggers, length, emotions you felt, what soothed you, and any images or memories that came up.
Repeat whenever you feel the urge. And in the first days, weeks, and months after a loss, it might be daily and that is ok.
Over time and crying sessions, you will find your rhythm and begin to feel more stable, empowered, and in control.
- Let your tears flow — they are safe and healing.
- Focus on the moment-to-moment process. It will not last forever. You will cry for an hour maybe more, but the emotions wear themselves out.
- Remember to stay hydrated.
- The frequency and intensity of your crying will eventually even out and reduce.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel better or move on because other people think you should.
- Be compassionate with yourself and take the space and time you need to grieve.
Grief has no rules.
If you cry every day for five years, that’s your grief. If you never cry, that’s your grief. If you wait 10 years and suddenly break down, that’s your grief.
Everything about it is normal because it’s yours.
I am sorry that the tears and sorrow are here. As you tread this path, please remember that you are not alone.
Note: Topography of Tears is a project by Rose-Lynn Fisher started in 2008 where she conducted a visual investigation of tears photographed through an optical standard light microscope. The different images she took portrayed throughout this article “visually evoke the unseen realm of tears…a momentary landscape of tears” caused by different emotions.