People have really intense reactions to crying. I've seen people uncomfortably run out of a room when someone sheds a tear or start crying themselves. I personally can't leave someone who's wiping tears away alone, and I end up shadowing them until they stop or tell me to go away. The emotional response to tears is obvious, but what about the physical? Turns out there are actually some interesting things that happen to our bodies after we cry, which might explain my visceral reaction to it.
Listen, I'm not suggesting anyone has to love crying, because it kind of sucks. It's not really fun while it's happening, and sometimes even embarrassing, but it really is a normal part of human living. Greatist reported that on average, women cry 3.5 times per month, and whether you cry once a weak or once a year, letting the tears flow is a natural bodily function. Plus, there's a ton of research on all the reasons crying is good for you on a physical and emotional level, as Bustle pointed out.
To try to get more comfortable with the whole crying thing, I dug deep into what our bodies go through after we cry, and the results had me thinking I might have to change my anthem from "No Tears Left To Cry" to "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)." And if this inspires you to shed a few tears of your own, you can join me in watching videos of dogs being reunited with their owners to let it out with a huge box of tissues.
1. Your Eyes Get Salty
The reason for puffiness after crying is two-fold. First, the lacrimal glands, the protective layer over your eyes, are working overtime when you cry, so they can become inflamed by the increased activity according to Science ABC, making your face look all kinds of swollen. Second, sobbing tears have a high sodium-content, as Health explained, and the saltiness causes the tissue around your eyes to swell once the tears make contact with your skin. At least there are ways we can deal with puffiness.
2. Your Body Is Cleansed of Toxins
Tears aren't the only thing that comes out of your eyes when you cry; apparently, you release chemicals associated with stress, like cortisol, when the tears flow, so your body will actually have less stress in it after you cry, as Medical Daily explained. Cortisol is known to wreak all kinds of havoc on the body, so the fact that you have a quick way to get rid of some of it is pretty amazing.
3. Blood Rushes
That red rim that sticks with you after a cry sesh — the tell-tale give away that you've been shedding tears — can be blamed on the blood vessels in your eyes. As UA Magazine explained, there are tiny blood vessels that provide oxygen to our peepers, and they're usually all but impossible to see. But when we cry, an increase of blood rushes to the vessels, causing the redness.
4. Stress Is Released
Research shows that the majority of people feel better after they cry, according to the Association for Psychological Science and it's all to do with stress release. A lot of people have been holding in feelings when they cry, so finding a way to release the pent-up emotions leaves them feeling calmer and more at peace.
5. Or Held Onto
However, crying might not have the same calming effect for people who suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, as Everyday Health reported, and you should reach out to a doctor if you actually feel worse after you've shed some tears, they advised. The cathartic feeling associated with a good cry doesn't come in the same big wave for people with these kinds of emotional disorders, and unfortunately, there's no known reason to explain why depression and anxiety stamp out the positive post-cry feels, according to Web MD.
6. Your Tears Get Rerouted To Your Nose
We've all used up an entire box of tissues while watching The Notebook, but the science on the reason why is surprising. Our eyes usually produce a steady stream of tears all day to keep our eyes moist (wild, I know), so when we cry, there's an excess of tears that then drains into our sinuses and gets things clogged. As Erich Voigt, M.D., director of the division of general otolaryngology at NYU Langone Medical Center, explained to SELF, "there are tears coming down the face but a lot of them are going down into the nose as well, and that’s when the nose gets stuffy and we do a lot of sniffling," which we then get rid of by sniffling and blowing our noses. Who knew?
7. Your Body Tenses Up
As anyone who has ever had a teary headache could tell you, crying and headaches are definitely linked, but scientists aren't exactly sure why. Lawrence Newman, M.D., director of the headache division at NYU Langone Health, told Women's Health that these headaches are most likely caused by the literal tension in your body crying causes. You tense your head, neck, and shoulders when you cry, and the headache is the response to that tension. The post-cry headache can also be tied to the build-up in your sinuses, as any increased pressure to your ducts can make things achey.
8. You Feel Cold
I've found myself wanting to put on ten sweatshirts after I've cried it out, and it turns out it's because of anxiety. Shaking when you're anxious is your body's way of signaling to you that you're stressed, as Anxiety Centre points out, so a case of the shivers after a good cry is just your body releasing stress in as many ways as possible.
Crying does some weird things to your body, and although it can be uncomfortable while it happens, it's probably best in the long run to just let it out. Plus, as it turns out, crying in front of others is scientifically proven to make other people feel sympathy for you, as Naveed Saleh M.D., M.S. tells Psychology Today, and as a result, you feel more comfortable sharing vulnerable feelings. I know I can feel a little embarrassed when I cry in front of friends, but it's good to know both people might feel better after the experience. So next time you find yourself getting teary in front of a pal or start to run when your friend wells up, lean into the company instead, and see if you really do feel more connected.
Season 2 of Doula Diaries shares the stories of fearless doulas helping their clients take control of their births and make tough choices that feel right to them. Watch the first episode of the new season Monday, November 26th.