The term “having a good cry” seems a bit oxymoronic when you think about it.
Most of the time, the things people cry about are anything but good!
But don’t fret. Crying is actually a highly specialized part of our biology that has evolved to serve some very important functions, like soothing pain and emotional distress.
What Are Tears, Anyway?
The tears we shed are made of three basic components: water, mucus, and lipids (oils).
The water in tears makes up the bulk of the tear, and as produced by the lacrimal gland. The mucus portion is produced by the eye’s outer membrane and keeps eyes moist by helping to distribute water across them. The oils in tears come from the meibomian gland and keep your eyes from drying out.
Believe it or not, there are a few varieties of tears that each serve a unique purpose.
3 Types of Tears
We cry for different reasons, and there are different types of tears that accompany those conditions. The three different kinds of tears are:
Continuous (or basal) tears
Reflex tears are very practical and utilitarian. We “cry” these tears to rid our eyes of dust and debris like dirt or smoke soot. The water portion of the tear does most of the work when it comes to reflex tears.
“Continuous” tears actually help protect against infection and lubricate eyes. But no, this isn’t what you call it when you can’t stop crying!
Emotional tears, unsurprisingly, are the kind of tears humans shed when we’re overcome with emotion like sadness, grief, or profound joy.
Mental Health Benefits of Emotional Tears
Reflex and basal tears have health benefits that are self-explanatory. As previously mentioned, they help protect eyes, prevent them from drying out, and stave off infections.
Emotional tears, on the other hand, are thought to have more complex psychological effects.
For one, studies have shown that emotional tears actually contain stress hormones. Crying, in this case, is a literal form of stress relief.
Similarly, other studies have shown that crying emotional tears stimulates your brain’s creation of endorphins, also known as the “feel-good chemical.” Crying literally makes you feel better!
Soothing Benefits of Crying
Crying has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system of the human body, too. This system helps with rest and digestion. It provides a simple explanation as to why “having a good cry” makes you feel better—crying is relaxing and in some cases, even restorative.
A really hard cry can actually have physically soothing effects, too. The harder you sob, the more rapidly you take in cooler air, which helps regulate brain temperature. Interestingly enough, a “cooler” brain feels better than a warmer brain!
Does Crying Relieve Pain? Yes!
The endorphins released during a long crying session don’t just calm your mood. Shedding emotional tears also release oxytocin, which helps create a sense of calm and regulating comfort. Biological opioids are also released when humans cry, and this eases emotional pain and numbs physical pain.
Behind Teary Eyes
While crying has many physical and mental health benefits, it’s important to remember that tears are typically a reactionary process that your body uses in response to pain or overstimulation of some kind. Crying is not without its downsides.
Tear production can put strain on your eyes’ blood vessels, cause irritation in and around the eyes, and lead to dry eyes and skin.
Conversely, some people frequently experience the waterworks even when they’re not in pain or emotional distress, which is a very common sign of chronic dry eyes.
If something feels wrong with how your eyes are (or aren’t) producing tears, talk to the specialists at ilumin to get you back in balance.
Give us a call at 402.933.6600 or schedule an appointment online today.