Like any other exocrine process (think: the body getting rid of stuff it doesn’t want), like exhaling, sweating, urinating, etc., crying helps get rid of toxic substances. Stress tears, a category of emotional tears, help rid the body of chemicals that can increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They also release prolactin, leu-enkephalin, magnesium, potassium and more. Moreover, they contain lysozyme, which can kill 90-95% of bacterias.
According to a 2011 study, this enzyme “could be applied to certain foods for protection against intentional contamination with anthrax.” That is to say: this is some strong stuff.
Last but not least, tears are a nonverbal way of communicating that could be used to bring about altruistic behavior in others. It’s an interpersonal way of showing pain that might be soothed by those around us. Human beings are a social species, and it’s not too surprising that our bodies have developed ways of asking each other for help without us necessarily granting them permission.
So the next time you’re thinking about holding tears in at work or with your family during the holidays—or just wherever makes you super miserable—maybe go find a nice bathroom stall to sob in instead. You’ll be happy you did — literally.