Why Do We Cry? The Art of Shedding Tears

Why Do We Cry? The Art of Shedding Tears

Charles Darwin once declared emotional tears purposeless, and nearly 150 years later, emotional crying remains one of the human body’s more confounding mysteries.

Everybody cries sometimes, and if you don’t, perhaps you should. Humans are emotional beings, what we do is dictated by a whole range of emotion. Every one of us has probably shed tears of sadness, pain, grief, frustration but also tears of joy, ecstasy, empathy, gratitude. Tears are produced whenever emotions are strongly felt, the good emotions and the bad ones, but why do we cry, and does it help us?

Portrait by Hester Van Doornum – Tears of Sorrow or Tears of Joy?

Why Do We Have Tears When We Cry?

There are fundamentally 3 types of tears:

  • Basal tears which are a protein-rich antibacterial liquid that helps to keep the eyes moist each time a person blinks.
  • Reflex tears which are triggered by irritants such as wind, smoke, dust. They are released to flush out these irritants and protect the eye.
  • Emotional tears which are a response to a range of emotions.

Basal and reflex tears are essential to help you see clearly and maintain the health of your eyes, but what about emotional tears, and are humans the only species that produce emotional tears?

Tears of Sorrow

There is a surprising dearth of hard facts about crying, so fundamental a human experience, but we are all familiar with tears of sorrow:

Extract from the poem Tear Drops by Patricia Grantham

Into each of our lives a little tear must fall,
This is a gift from God that is common to all,
It cleanses the wounds of the troubled soul,
When the burdens of life has taken its toll.

Tears of Sorrow

One study has shown that crying releases endorphins or happy hormones, chemicals that are produced by our brain that are thought to promote feelings of well-being, although more research is required to confirm this. Another study found that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax.

Tears of Joy

Sometimes we cry at life’s happiest moments, but why do we cry? A further study suggested that your hypothalamus, an almond-sized region of the brain that regulates hormones, can’t tell the difference between being happy or sad or overwhelmed or stressed. All it knows is that it’s getting a strong neural signal which triggers our emotional reactions.

Tears of Joy – Puppy Storm

A girl always cries,
But she can’t figure out why,
People ask if she’s okay,
And she replies,
“yes, I am just fine,”
All her days are so fine and bright,
That is why she can’t figure out why she cries.

Crying is natural and women are known for crying more than men. Psychological studies have found that on average, women cry two to five times a month or three to five times more than men.  Remarkably, men have a tendency to cry tears of joy in reaction to positive events more often than women. We have all seen those YouTube wedding videos where the groom has a total meltdown at the sight of their beautiful bride walking down the aisle.

Grooms Crying At Weddings

What About Animals, Can Animals Cry?

You will find a lot of anecdotes from pet owners that they have seen their pet weep; a few of those anecdotal stories have been captured on camera, and it is clear when you watch those videos that pets can feel extremely emotional and distress, but according to scientists, other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, but humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered by their feelings.

Do Animals Cry?

A Sign of Weakness?

In our culture crying can sometimes be seen as a sign of weakness, people tend to feel uncomfortable when in the presence of someone who is tearing up and our first reaction is often please don’t cry. However, whereas crying frequently can be seen as a weakness, occasional crying – even publicly – is often met with huge outpourings of sympathy.

Crying in Public

Asking someone not to cry, or to stop crying may not be good advice, because crying is beneficial for you, swallowing your emotions can be hazardous to your health!

Why Do We Cry? The Benefits of Crying.

Crying can have many benefits for our health and well-being; experts believe that it is actually an important part of processing emotions and overcoming traumatic events.

1. Crying Helps Relieve Stress

There are people in the medical profession who are tears experts! Dr. William Frey, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is one such an expert.  Dr. Frey discovered that reflex tears i.e. the type of tears that allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles located in the eye are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones. Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins that accumulate during periods of stress.  So, whenever you feel stressed out, don’t fret, just have a good cry and it will release the stress.

2. Crying Signals to Others that you Need Support

Anybody who witnesses someone tearing up will naturally offer some kind of help and comfort. When you cry it may mean that you are frustrated, overwhelmed or just trying to get someone’s attention. Our body understands that the best type of comfort comes in the form of human touch and letting the tears flow will be a signal to people around you that comforting words and a hug will be welcome.

Crying Signals to Others that you Need Support

3. Crying Soothes Physical Pain

Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins and oxytocin, our body’s natural pain killer and feel-good hormones. Don’t be ashamed of crying when you hurt yourself, twist your ankle, burn your hand or cut yourself, the feel-good hormones that you produced through your tears will increase your pain tolerance and help you cope with pain.

4. Crying Lowers Your Blood Pressure

Several studies have found that after a good cry session, people experience both lower blood pressure and a steadier pulse, most likely due to the fact that their stress levels have gone down significantly.

5. Crying Helps Restore Emotion Balance

Crying happens in response to strong emotional events. Researchers at Yale University believe that crying may help restore emotional equilibrium. When you cry after the loss of a loved one it helps restores emotional balance into your body and allows the grieving process to follow its course. In the same way, when you are incredibly happy about something and cry, it may be your body’s way to recover from experiencing such a strong emotion.

Japanese Stress-Relief

According to Professor Junko Umihara, who teaches at Nippon Medical School, “crying is an act of self-defense against accumulating stresses.” 

In Japan, many schools and companies are embracing crying as a method of stress relief and are encouraging their students and employees to cry as a way to improve their mental health.  Japan even has people employed as ‘tears teachers’ otherwise known as namida sensei. Mr. Hidefumi Yoshida is one of them, he gave up his job as a high school teacher to become a full-time namida sensei touring the country to lecture schools and companies about the benefits of crying.

The Art of Crying – Japanese Style

Japan has a relatively high rate of suicide for both adults and children. The art of crying and not holding anything back has been introduced into the Japanese culture as a new tradition to be respected and complied, for the sake of public health and to help reduce the number of suicides by 30% by 2030.  Crying in Japan is now a matter of national importance, time to open the floodgates. Doctor’s prescription!

Why Do We Cry – Historical Crying

People have speculated about where tears come from and why humans cry since antiquity. The Old Testament describes tears as the by-product of when the heart’s material weakens and turns into water. Other theories have describing tears originating in the heart. In Ancient Greece, it was thought that the mind was the trigger for tears, whereas in the 1600s it was believed that emotions—especially love—heated the heart, which generated water vapor to cool itself down. The heart vapor would then rise to the head, condense near the eyes and escape as tears.

The Bible contains many verses about crying from which we learn that there are often times to cry and that everyone will cry at some point in their life.

Psalm 126:5-6: “They that sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Welcome Your Tears

If you wake up feeling pain and sorrow that brings tears to your eyes, welcome those tears and tell them:

Angelus (Angelus Domini) by Jean-Francois Millet

Tears, I feel you. You make me feel like sitting down, bury my head in my hands and let my tears of sadness and sorrow overwhelm me like a torrent, but there is field to be sown, dishes to be washed, laundry to be done, food to be cooked, work to be done. I know you will wet my face several times today and maybe tomorrow too, but I have work to do. I intend to take the bag of seeds and sow and you can come along with me and wet the rows. The tears I shed today are like seeds that are planted in a field and with time and through much hard work, care and attention a great harvest of joy and thankfulness will bless me. So tears, I am welcoming you on my cheeks.”

And this my dear friend is your Quest!

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