Crying. We all do it, for many reasons and through all stages of our lives. Yet it's not something we seem to talk about much is it? I did a little reading into the psychophysiology behind tears; what I found was pretty interesting and I thought you guys might think so too. So here we are (I skipped over the twenty-five letter chemical and hormonal names to keep it from sounding too dry).
There are three basic types of tears. Basal tears help keep the cornea wet and nourished. Some of the substances in this fluid fight against bacteria. Reflex tears result from irritation of the eye by foreign particles, or by reaction to irritating substances such as onion vapours or direct sunlight. They attempt to wash out any irritants that come in contact with the surface. Pretty straightforward so far right? In the 1980s Dr. William Fey (a researcher at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis) determined that reflex tears are composed mainly of water (98%), where emotional tears also contain the stress hormone prolactin.
The third kind, Emotional (weeping) tears, are what I was most curious about. This type of crying is generally brought on by strong emotional stress, mourning, physical pain or suffering. As most of us know it can also be brought on by extreme happiness. It's a necessary biological reaction triggered by the body to release toxins. In addition it evokes that "feel good" factor we need after a good cry. Emotional tears contain more protein-based hormones, including a natural pain-killer, than basal or reflex tears. Among these are endorphins, the same hormones that are released during intense physical exercise or sex. Which explains why some people cry after experiencing orgasm. (More on this in a future post).
The sight of someone crying triggers protective instincts, drawing us to them to help and provide comfort. Therapist Marisa Peer said, "Our need for and ability to offer protection, sympathy and empathy play a crucial role in crying." Crying is an attention-grabber, as babies know all too well.
This primal notion dates back to the early days of the human race, when men would go off hunting and leave their women and children behind. Since they were on their own, the women required a natural "signal" if they needed help (some say this may explain why most men aren't as open about expressing emotion and are generally less comfortable crying in public than women). This is something that's been biologically ingrained in the sexes over thousands of years.
People generally feel better, usually more relaxed, after a good cry. Even though it's often done under stressful or traumatic circumstances, crying is a significant way to release stress and is an essential reaction
for our emotional health.
Photo credit here.