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Crying is Good For You

Here's why.
Reading time 4 minutes

Crying tends to get a bad rap. Being emotional in general is often associated with weakness or a loss of control. Not surprisingly, society instills the “shame” of crying into males more than females, with studies showing very little difference in crying ratio between genders until the ages of 11 or 12.

A 2001 study shows that only 23% of males in the US reported crying out of helplessness as opposed to 58% of comparable females. But this all has to do with the social construct we help build and inhabit. But when you get down to the biology of it, crying is actually a really curious phenomenon. So why do we do it?

There’s a slew of answers. There are also multiple types of tears which come about for different reasons. Basal and reflex tears are the boring ones — the first is a constant secretion that contains protein-rich liquid serving as an antibacterial which also keeps the eyes moist. You get a little bit of it each time you blink.

Reflex tears come about to protect from irritants like smoke, dust, onions, etc. They cleanse the eye of these potentially harmful triggers and then flush them out. These are 98% water

Then there’s the good stuff.

Emotional tears are symptomatic of a range of feelings, from happiness to sadness. Scientists widely believe that humans are the only species to experience emotional crying, although some zoologists have claimed to have seen animals like elephants crying after being freed from abusive domesticity. As far as humans go, studies have established a neuronal connection that ties the tear duct to the area of the brain involved with emotion. It is one of the few ways a sentiment within our mind can manifest physically from the human body, and you should be thankful for that.

 

 

According to a 2014 study, crying has a self-soothing effect. It activates our parasympathetic nervous systems (PNS), which helps rest the body after strenuous activity. Moreover, crying is a bit like a drug in that it releases endorphins, which are hormones secreted by the brain and nervous system that help to block pain and control certain emotions.

The effect can be both immediate and longer-termed; a study in the Netherlands found that people who cried during a sad film went from feeling low after the film to neutral in 20 minutes. Then, 90 minutes after the film ended, they were feeling better than they had before watching it. No wonder we love tearjerkers.

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.

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