We all feel a range of emotions sometimes—it’s healthy and natural. But if you’ve been crying more lately, or are concerned that you are tearful too often, learn more about what your weeping may mean.
Why Do People Cry?
From birth, we know how to instinctively cry. Even though they can’t produce true tears until three or four months of age, babies cry when they’re wet, cold, hungry, sleepy and -- as a new parent can attest—for a variety of reasons we can’t always identify.
As we get older, we tend to cry when we’re hurt or feel a strong emotion such as sadness, anger or even happiness. Cultural norms begin to dictate “rules” of crying. Boys are often cautioned not to cry, and as children get older, they may be reminded that crying is for babies. (One study found that there was no gender gap in the frequency of crying between boys and girls until age 12, when boys begin to cry less.)
The truth is, scientists don’t know exactly why people cry. Biologically, the body produces three types of tears. Basal tears lubricate and nourish the eye, keeping it moist. Reflex tears protect the eye from becoming irritated, such as when we cut an onion. Emotional tears are ones we shed that are tied to feelings. Some studies suggest emotional or psychic tears, which only humans shed, contain more protein than the other types of tears.
How Much Crying Is Too Much?
No guidelines exist that determine how much people should or should not cry. Studies indicate that women tend to shed more emotional tears than men. One study found that women cried an average of 5.3 times per month while men cried 1.4 times during the same period.
While it’s good to know there is no universal standard on how much you should cry, you may still have legitimate concerns about how often you tear up.
If you find yourself crying and feeling sadder than usual, or feeling sadder more often to the point that it is affecting your day-to-day activities, your tears may be a symptom of depression or anxiety.
If you laugh or cry uncontrollably, suddenly and frequently—even when you’re not feeling emotional, this may be a symptom of a condition called PseudoBulbar Affect (PBA), which may be a sign of a neurologic condition or traumatic brain injury.
Even understanding that tears are often a natural response, there are still some times you may not want to shed them. Whether the tears are in response to sadness, fear or anger, here are ways to get through the moment:
- Take slow, deep breaths to relax.
- Go for a walk or step away from an upsetting situation.
- Relax your facial muscles.
- Use your words to communicate how you’re feeling.
- Distract yourself by looking at an object, squeezing a stress ball or blinking your eyes.
If you think your crying may be related to depression or anxiety, or is uncontrollable and not consistent with how you feel, talk to your doctor. Otherwise, consider embracing crying just as you would embrace laughing or any other outward show of emotion.
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