The average person produces 15 to 30 gallons of tears a year. That's probably more than you expected, but if you think about it, we do produce a lot of different types of tears. When we chop onions, our eyes get watery. When a bug flies into the eye, tears flush it out. Crying is a natural human activity that isn't something to be ashamed of. My fellow cry babies, here's a lifetime of validation -- crying is good for you.
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How tears work
There are three types of tears -- basal, reflex and emotional. Basal tears are always present in the eye -- those are what lubricate and protect your cornea. They are the barrier between your eye and the outside world. Reflex tears are what flush your eyes of harmful irritants, like smoke or onion fumes. They are mostly water and antibodies that combat infection. Emotional tears respond to heightened emotions of joy, sadness or fear.
All tears are produced by the lacrimal glands located above each eye. When you blink, basal tears are spread across your eye to protect it. Without your noticing, tears drain into the puncta of the eye -- the tiny holes on the corners of your upper and lower eyelids -- and then drain into the nasolacrimal ducts in the nose. Reflexive and emotional crying produce more tears than your natural drainage system can handle. The puncta are only about the size of a grain of rice. That's why tears overflow and run down your face.
Benefits of crying
The purpose and benefits of emotional tears are an evolving field of study. However, current research shows that proteins and hormones are present in emotional tears, not in basal or reflex tears. This suggests that there are relieving qualities only emotional tears offer.
Crying can make you feel better
Crying activates your parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your breathing and heart rate and bringing you relief. When strong emotions come on, crying helps restore you back to your normal balanced state. It's naturally how your body responds. Unfortunately, it's not instant relief -- it takes a few minutes of crying and deep breathing for your heart rate to slow and your body to relax.
Long periods of crying can also help relieve physical and emotional pain. When you cry, your body releases oxytocin and other endorphins associated with pain relief. Crying is also an important part of the grieving process. Research suggests that it might help you process loss.
Crying can boost your mood
Crying can also help lift your mood. Unlike reflex and basal tears, emotional tears contain stress hormones as well as the mineral manganese. Manganese is associated with anxiety, irritability and nervousness, so crying is one way to release tension.
You experience the benefits of crying when you embrace your tears. If you try to hold back and feel shameful about your need to cry, it negatively affects your mood. Trying to keep your emotions and stress inside -- called repressive coping -- is linked to poor immune health, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Crying helps you connect to others
Let's be honest -- crying in front of people is uncomfortable. People don't know if they should comfort or sit beside you while you weep. Awkward as it may be, one of the most significant benefits of crying is social connection.
Crying helps explain to others what you're feeling and experiencing. It allows people to determine how to react and what you need from them. Crying not only strengthens social connections with others, it also increases empathy, closeness and encourages support from family and friends. Tears prompt other people to offer support, ultimately making you feel better.
Can you cry too much?
You can't cry too much or too little, and there isn't a recommended amount to cry to be healthy. However, certain conditions cause your eyes to produce too many tears, such as blepharitis or epiphora. Or you can produce too few, in the case of dry eye. Our bodies make fewer tears as we age. Dry eye and irritation are common during hormonal changes including pregnancy and menopause. Some medications or cancer treatments can also limit tear production.
Crying as a response to heightened emotions is completely normal -- and healthy. However, crying may become a problem if it interferes with your ability to function. Crying for seemingly no reason can be a sign of depression. If you think you have signs of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor.
Too long, didn’t read?
Crying is a completely healthy way to express emotions. While it's generally associated with sadness, crying can be a sign of healing and processing what you're feeling. You feel better after you cry because you've flushed out toxins and stress hormones. Tears are nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn't hold them in. Find the space where you feel comfortable embracing your feelings and crying. It's good for you.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.