Why crying can actually be good for you in times of stress


I’ll be honest and say that I am a crier. This is mainly due to the fact that I am quite a sensitive person. I have always been and probably always will be. It’s sad that we live in a society that sees crying as a weakness. Because of this, I’ve been relatively ashamed of crying my whole life, being at times unable to control my emotions. Lately however I’m starting to see crying as a good thing. Because tears have the ability to reduce stress (thanks Maya for the knowledge – shout-out to you!!). For this reason, crying can actually be a healthy and protective response.

There are different forms of crying; these are referred to as basal tears, reflex tears, and emotional tears. Each of these consists of electrolytes, lipids, enzymes and metabolites (1), however, they each happen to have their own unique structure to provide protection to the body. Whilst I’ll be focusing on emotional tears in this post, the most mysterious of the three, I’ll give you a quick rundown on the other two; basal and reflex.

Basal tears are constantly secreted upon blinking in minuscule quantities, providing lubrication and protection to the eye from the external factors such as dust or insects (2). They also contain “fats, water, proteins and compounds” (3) which provide protection against infection. Similarly, reflex tears are produced as a form of protection against external irritants. These tears are exactly what develop when you cut an onion due to the release of sulfuric fumes (4). Emotional tears in comparison are much more complex. They are produced due to the presence of strong emotions, whether that is due to physical pain, heartache, empathy, compassion, loss of attachment, laughter or embarrassment (4).

In the Journal Article published in Frontiers of Psychology titled ‘Is crying a self-soothing behavior?’, authors Asmir Gračanin, Lauren M. Bylsma, and Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets discuss the what is described as “the self-soothing effects of crying” (5). Whilst crying has a social-soothing impact, in terms of comfort and social support, it can also have direct effects on the homeostatic process of mood regulation (5). Many hypothesises remain around the very notion of this, with one suggesting that the release off stress hormones when we cry further provides a homeostatic mechanism for the body. Research has shown that emotional tears contain different proteins and hormones to those found in basal and reflex tears. Amongst these include “higher levels of prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, leucine enkephalin, potassium and manganese” (1). The presence of adrenocorticotropic hormone may suggest the notion of decreasing stress within the body, as it “controls the production and secretion of cortisol” (6). Furthermore, leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller found in the body, is an endogenous opioid peptide (7) and endorphin (4). Endogenous opioids released as a result of crying may have beneficial effects on emotional and physical pain as they have the ability heighten the limit of pain tolerance (5) (such as that experienced due to physical and emotional pain). Finally, another benefit includes the release of oxytocin, a hormone has been found to “increase calmness and general sense of well-being” (5), as well as “decrease anxiety and cortisol levels” (5).

All I can say is, who could have ever thought the process of crying would be so complex! There’s so much more to it then we think. So next time you feel like you need to have a good cry, let it flow! The benefits include stress reduction, mood enhancement and a feeling of relief following. Explains why I always feel better after good cry!

*****If you are however experiencing overwhelming emotional distress, please talk to someone about it! This could be a family member, friend, qualified health professional, mentor or counsellor.

Please do not hesitate to leave any comments or questions below, or send me a message, I’ll try and get back to you as soon as I can. Have a fabulous 2018 people, stay well!

References

1. Mukamal, Reena. All About Emotional Tears . American Academy of Ophthalmology . [Online] 2017. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/all-about-emotional-tears.

2. Tears . Look After Your Eyes . [Online] https://lookafteryoureyes.org/how-your-eyes-work/tears/.

3. Stress Therapies. ACS Distance Education. [Online] 2017. https://www.acsedu.co.uk/Info/Alternative-Living/Preventative-Healthcare/Stress-Therapies.aspx.

4. Xie, Shawn (Yifei). Why Do We Cry? Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science . [Online] 2013. http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2013/02/why-do-we-cry/#.WkSWiTeYM2w.

5. Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Asmir Gračanin, Lauren M. Bylsma, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets. 202, s.l. : Frontiers of Psychology , 2014, Vol. 5.

6. Gerard J. Tortora, Bryan Derrickson. Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, 14th Edition . USA : John Wiley & Sons , 2014 .

7. Chapter 7 – Opioid Peptide Family. [book auth.] Akiyoshi Takahashi. Handbook of Hormones, Comparative Endocrinology for Basic and Clinical Research. s.l. : Academic Press, 2016.


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