There are tears of pain or happiness, tears after peeling an onion or crocodile tears. Whatever the reason for crying, Dr. Nick Knight explains the scientific reasons.
First of all, it is necessary to make a distinction between crying and tearing. The first could be defined as the consequence of a state of mind, while the second is nothing other than the “non-emotional” shedding of tears. Given this, the apparatus that produces the tears is the same but we need to understand the science of their production and how it relates to the emotional center of the brain.
There are 3 types of tears: main, reaction or psychic. The main tears are those that could be called “workers’ tears”, those that make the cornea lubricated and prevent the eye from drying out. Then there are the reaction tears, those that help us to remove the irritations coming from foreign particles, such as the onion or the classic gnat in the eye.
Finally, there are psychic tears, those we all know, in response to strong emotions like anger, happiness, stress, sadness or even physical pain. It has been studied, in fact, that psychic tears contain a natural analgesic called leucine enkephalin, probably part of the reason that makes us feel better after a great cry.
There is a specific area of our brain that deals with emotions, called the limbic system directly connected to the nervous system (which is the part over which we have no control). The latter, through a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, is able to control the lacrimal system. It is this tiny molecule that stimulates crying. In short, our emotional reactions activate the nervous system which, in turn, triggers the activation of the lacrimal system.
Crying can be further divided into two categories: spatial and temporal. The first category includes the cries related to the desire to be in a place, for example at home. When instead we search in the past or get excited thinking about the future we have the temporal crying.
Some psychologists argue that a good cry can help us feel better because it does nothing but create a social input, solidifies relationships with those who share the experience with us and consequently makes us feel less alone.
Therefore, the interesting thing about crying is the effects: the heart rate increases, you sweat, your breathing slows down and the famous “lump in the throat” is formed.
Naturally, women would be champions in this “discipline” with about 50 cries in a year, against 10 of men.
Crying, however, does not harm your health, indeed. The only solution is therefore to arm yourself with handkerchiefs.