Cry It Out

Photo of girl crying
Yeah, I feel you.

So. How’s everyone doing these days?

Me? Oh, you know. Hanging in. Surviving not thriving, as they say.

And yes, crying. A lot. Because being at home full-time with a five-year-old for almost five straight weeks while my husband works an essential job during a worldwide pandemic is, well, a lot. It’s a physically and emotionally draining challenge that is also draining my tear ducts, let me tell you. I don’t mean to be glib or whiny about it. Mental health is a serious issue that I care about deeply. I know many of us are struggling right now in our own—and similar—ways. And lots of us are probably crying while we’re at it.

But did you know all that crying we’re doing has a fancy name? It’s called emotional or psychogenic lacrimation.

Our bodies produce three different types of tears: 1) Continuous or basal, which help keep our eyes from drying out, 2) reflexive, which are created when our eyes are exposed to cold or wind or dust or some other annoying irritant, and 3) psychogenic, which are shed when we have an emotional response to something… like stress or loneliness during a time of social isolation.

This third type of tear is the least understood by science. Some studies have shown that psychogenic tears differ in composition than the other two, and that they may even contain more toxins. Thus, emotional crying may be a handy way to rid the body of stress-related substances.

Other theories suggest that crying is an evolutionary trait that humans have developed to signal distress. After all, it’s how babies first learn to communicate their needs, right? And yes, some of us continue to do so throughout our lives (it me!).

Another theory is that psychogenic lacrimation is our body simply recovering from the fight-or-flight response. When we encounter stress, our sympathetic nervous systems kicks in. Pupils dilate and muscles tighten. Our body psyches itself up to escape or fight off the danger (a scary virus, perhaps?). Once the danger has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in next. Pupils constrict and muscles relax. Phew. And sometimes, the tears start to stream.

Let them flow, my friends. A good cry can do good things for your body, mind, and soul.