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Why Do We Cry?

April 18, 2019

Crying or the witnessing of crying is such an ordinary part of life that few people stop to think much about it, but have you ever wondered why we cry?

The Truth About Tearing Up

Crying is defined as the welling or shedding of tears in response to intense emotions, physical pain, or simple eye irritation. Though it is generally believed that only  humans cry tears in response to intense emotional of physical pain, animals do produce tears in response to eye irritation. The biological component to human weeping is found in the neuronal connection between the tear duct and the limbic area of the human brain, the area most directly related to the experience of emotion.

What Affects Whether We Allow Ourselves To Cry?

There are several factors that affect how often and how likely we are to cry. Gender is the most commonly cited of these factors, with the well known fact that women cry more frequently than men. Scientists believe that testosterone impedes crying, while the hormone prolactin — which is found in higher levels in women — may encourage it.  

However, the urge and ability to cry cannot be reduced to biology. Much cross-cultural research has demonstrated that cultural conditioning factors strongly in the expression of emotion, including the shedding of tears. Another factor is the immediate social-surround and the presence or absence of social cues in relation to weeping. (For example, most American men would not receive social cues at a sports event that crying was acceptable, whereas at a funeral for a close loved one, social cues would likely signal that crying was acceptable.)

Psychological research has also found that emotionally secure people are also more likely to cry than their emotionally insecure peers since the former group generally believes that the active expression of a wide range of emotion — provided it is expressed constructively —  is normal, healthy, and productive.

Health Benefits

Although in many cultures crying is regarded as a sign of weakness, research provides ample evidence that there are both emotional and physical benefits to shedding tears when the urge to cry arises. Most research subjects report feeling a greater sense of wellbeing following a “good cry,” provided the social-surround is non-shaming and supportive.

Crying releases various endorphins that not only  ease emotional pain but also physical pain. Contrary to the belief that crying is unhealthy or a sign of weakness, crying functions to reregulate mood after particularly intense or overwhelming experiences, and can even enhance the feeling of overall well-being.

In short, the ability to cry when the natural urge arises has both emotional and physical benefits, including contributing to eye comfort and health. Shedding tears ensures the eyes remain well lubricated by bathing them in a saline fluid called lysozyme that has powerful antimicrobial properties and therefore helps guards against infection, as well as the troubling condition of dry eye.

Crying is a healthy, natural reaction to the human experience of intense emotion, physical pain, or simple eye irritation. At OCLI, we help our patients have healthy, happy eyes through the friendliest, most comprehensive eye care in town. From routine vision screenings, to LASIK vision correction, to cataract surgery, to glaucoma treatment, to relief from dry eye, we’re here to serve you! Reach out to us today!

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