Why do we cry?

Why We Cry and What It Can Teach Us

Have you ever cried during a movie, or perhaps while reading a book? Maybe you've shed tears of joy at a wedding, or tears of frustration during an argument.

We've all experienced moments where our emotions become so overwhelming that we can't help but cry. But have you ever stopped to think about why we cry?

Keep reading to explore the science behind crying and what it can teach us about ourselves. You'll learn about the evolutionary purpose of crying, the different types of tears, and how crying can actually be good for our mental health. So grab some tissues, and let's dive in.

Evolutionary Purpose of Crying

Crying is a natural response to emotional stimuli, but it also serves an evolutionary purpose. In the early days of human evolution, crying was a way for infants to communicate their needs and ensure their survival. A baby's cry would alert its mother or caregiver that it needed food, warmth, or attention.

As humans evolved and developed more complex social structures, crying took on new functions. It became a way to express emotions such as sadness, joy, and empathy. Crying can also serve as a social signal, communicating to others that we are in need of comfort or support.

Interestingly, the reasons we cry have changed over time. While our ancestors may have cried primarily for survival reasons, modern humans cry in response to a wider range of emotions and experiences. This shift reflects not only changes in our physiology but also shifts in our cultural values and social norms.

The Different Types of Tears and Their Chemical Composition

Not all tears are created equal. In fact, there are three different types of tears: basal, reflex, and emotional.

  • Basal tears are constantly produced by the lacrimal gland to keep the eye moist and protect against infection. They contain a mix of water, salt, and proteins that help lubricate the eye.
  • Reflex tears are produced in response to irritants like smoke or onions. They also contain water, salt, and proteins but at a higher concentration than basal tears.
  • Emotional tears, on the other hand, have a different chemical composition altogether. They contain higher levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, as well as endorphins, which can create feelings of euphoria and pain relief. This suggests that crying can be a way for our bodies to regulate stress and emotions.

Crying as a Therapeutic Release

Crying can be a cathartic and therapeutic release of pent-up emotions. When we cry, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm us down and reduce stress levels.

Once again, research has shown that emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, compared to basal or reflex tears. This suggests that crying can be a way for our bodies to rid themselves of excess stress hormones and other toxins.

In fact, some studies have found that crying can even improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. By releasing negative emotions through tears, we may be able to better regulate our emotional state and improve overall well-being.

While crying may not solve all of life's problems, it can serve as a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions. So the next time you feel like shedding a tear, don't hold back—it could be just what your body needs to release tension and restore balance.

The Psychological Benefits of Allowing Yourself to Cry

While crying is often seen as a sign of weakness or vulnerability, allowing yourself to cry can actually have numerous psychological benefits

Suppressing emotions and holding back tears can lead to increased stress levels, anxiety, and even physical health problems.

On the other hand, allowing ourselves to cry when we feel the need can be a healthy way to process difficult emotions and experiences. Crying can help us release pent-up feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration that might otherwise fester and cause long-term emotional damage.

In fact, studies have shown that people who allow themselves to cry when they feel the need to may experience greater emotional regulation and resilience over time. By acknowledging our emotions and allowing ourselves to express them in a healthy way, we may be better equipped to cope with life's challenges and build stronger relationships with others.

Of course, it's important to note that crying isn't always appropriate or necessary in every situation. Some people may feel uncomfortable expressing their emotions in this way or may find other outlets for processing difficult experiences.

However, for those who do find comfort in crying, it's important not to suppress this natural response. Instead, we should embrace our emotions and allow ourselves the space and time we need to process them in a healthy way. In doing so, we may discover new levels of emotional well-being and resilience that we never thought possible.

Gender and Crying: Breaking Down Societal Expectations

As mentioned, some people may feel uncomfortable expressing their emotions through tears. And while crying is a universal human experience, there are often gendered expectations surrounding it. 

In many cultures, crying is seen as a sign of weakness or femininity, leading some men to feel ashamed or embarrassed about shedding tears.

This societal pressure can have negative consequences for both men and women. Women may be dismissed as overly emotional or irrational if they cry in certain situations, while men may feel that they need to suppress their emotions in order to conform to traditional masculine norms.

However, research suggests that these gendered expectations are not necessarily rooted in biology or physiology. Rather, they are a product of cultural norms and social conditioning.

But by working to break down these gendered expectations surrounding crying, we can create a more inclusive and accepting society where people of all genders feel comfortable expressing their emotions in healthy ways. This includes creating space for men to cry without fear of judgment or ridicule and recognizing the strength it takes to be vulnerable and open about our emotions.

Ultimately, by embracing our shared humanity and acknowledging the role of culture in shaping our attitudes towards crying, we can create a more compassionate world where everyone feels seen and valued for who they truly are.

The Empathy Connection: Why We Cry When Others Do

Crying isn't just a personal emotional response—it can also be a social and empathetic one. Research has shown that seeing others cry can elicit a similar response in ourselves, even if we don't know the person or fully understand their situation.

This connection between empathy and crying is thought to be rooted in our mirror neuron system, which allows us to feel and mimic the emotions of others. When we see someone crying, our mirror neurons may fire in response, creating feelings of sadness or empathy within ourselves.

Interestingly, this empathetic response isn't limited to humans. Studies have shown that some animals, including elephants and dogs, may also exhibit signs of distress when they witness others in pain or distress.

While the empathetic connection between crying and emotion can be powerful, it's important not to assume that everyone who cries is experiencing the same emotions or needs the same kind of support. Each person's experience is unique, and it's important to approach each situation with empathy and an open mind.

By recognizing the power of empathy in eliciting an emotional response to crying, we can become more attuned to our own emotions as well as those of others around us. This can help foster greater understanding and compassion for others while also allowing us to better regulate our own emotional responses in healthy ways.

Finding Balance with Additional Emotional and Mental Health Support

Crying is a natural and healthy response to emotional stimuli that serves an important physiological and emotional purpose. Whether we're shedding tears of joy, sadness, or frustration, crying can help us regulate our emotions and connect with others on a deeper level.

However, it's also important to remember that crying isn't always enough to address complex emotional or mental health issues. If you find yourself struggling with persistent feelings of depression, anxiety, or trauma, it may be helpful to seek additional support from a mental health professional.

One resource that can help you find balance in your emotional well-being is the Balance app. This app offers a range of evidence-based tools and techniques designed to promote mental health and wellness. From guided meditations to calming ambiances and more, the Balance app can provide you with the support you need to manage difficult emotions and build resilience over time. And the best part? It's completely free for your entire first year. So consider downloading the Balance app on iOS or Android today. With its user-friendly interface and evidence-based approach, this app can help you find balance in all aspects of your life—one step at a time.

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