The benefits of being a highly sensitive person have been well-documented, but there are drawbacks to being so in tune with your emotions, too. A central hallmark of my own sensitivity is a tendency to cry at the drop of a hat, and there’s nothing more awkward than suddenly bursting into tears at work. These days, my office (as a freelance writer) is my own apartment, so if I randomly cry, my colleagues are none the wiser. But here’s how I managed crying at work during my office-dwelling days:
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose what situations we cry in, but chances are there are certain situations that poke at your sensitivity more than others. Look for patterns in what sets you off. Confrontation? Feeling overwhelmed? Excess stress or tension? Be proactive about combating your main triggers. That might involve being extra-prepared for interactions with more combative colleagues, taking time to make sure your workload stays balanced and doesn’t avalanche on you, or squeezing in a quick workout at lunch to decompress. The more tears you can prevent in advance, the better.
If you know you cry more easily than most people, don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a weeping jag to loop your co-workers in. My approach was to say something like, “I can cry pretty easily — some people only cry when they feel really intense emotions, but I’ve always been sensitive. Don’t be alarmed if I seem overly upset sometimes.” Clue your coworkers in to your preferred response — giving you a few minutes to compose yourself? Letting you power through?
This doesn’t need to be — and shouldn’t be — a dramatic conversation. Calmly and straightforwardly explaining that you cry easily well in advance is far preferable to shocking your co-workers by randomly bursting into tears one day. It’s okay to be a little self-deprecating about it, but don’t apologize for being a crier, either in advance or after the fact. It’s not a terrible flaw, it’s just a part of who you are. Let your coworkers take your cue by not making a big deal about it.
A yoga instructor once explained to me that trying to stop tears once they’ve come is like trying to stop a sneeze. You might be able to put it off briefly, but once it comes back around, it’s going to be sooner than you’d hoped, and likely more intense, too. Crying is a biological process, and it’s over with most quickly when you let it run its natural course. Excuse yourself for a few minutes, cry it out, put a cold towel on your eyes and the back of your neck, and then get back down to business.
Be honest with yourself about how frequently (and robustly) you cry at work, and compare that to your tearfulness levels across the board. It’s okay to cry at work! But if that’s the only place you’re crying, it might be more about your job than your own sensitivities, and that might mean it’s time to think about making a change.