You watch a movie where a dog dies and shed some tears. You yawn after pulling an all-nighter and shed some tears. You chop an onion, are denied access to the car for the night, or reunite with a friend you haven’t seen in five years and shed some tears. You laugh at a friend’s joke and tears fall uncontrollably. Tears come billowing out of your eyes at varying times and during different situations. We may try to hold them in, but there is no stopping the steady stream. We never stop and think in our moment of sadness what exactly these wet droplets are and why we create them.
Everyone is born crying and so to fill the basic needs early in their lives and we all have our times over the years of breaking down and letting the droplets cover our faces. While male and females may cry the same amount of times up until puberty, the Journal of Research in Personality found that on average women cry more than men from adolescence on. It was found that men cry one time per month, compared to women’s five times. Women’s tear ducts were also found to be smaller than men’s, which could contribute to the fact that women cry more than men on average. Regardless of who sheds more tears, we all produce ten ounces of tears per day because tears do not only appear when one experiences new emotions, but rather are there for protection of the eye.
There are three types of tears that are produced during varying situations. Basal tears are in our eyes constantly, ensuring that the cornea is well-nourished, since it does not have its own oxygen supply. It creates a layer over the eye that produces a smooth surface to allow one’s vision to be improved. Another duty the basal tears are responsible for is washing away and killing harmful bacteria and protecting the eye from friction.
Reflex tears are prompted to protect the eye from harsh chemicals, such as the exposure to onion juice, smoke, or dust. The tears wash away the irritants that are affecting one’s cornea.
The tears most recognize are emotional tears, or those droplets that appear after an emotional feeling. It can come from anger, happiness, grief, among many more feelings one may experience day-to-day. The cerebrum, which registers sadness in the brain, sends hormones to be released. Researchers have found crying allows the individual to rid toxins built up from stress, therefore feel better after shedding emotional tears.
Although basal, reflex, and emotional all appear and feel the same, studies have found that each tear has a different make-up. Reflex and emotional tears were tested for the content in the water. Reflex tears were 98% of water, but emotional tears had prolactin, a protein, adrenocorticotropic hormones, an indicator of stress, and an “endorphin that reduces pain and works to improve the mood,” leucine-enkephalin. The results from this study support the belief that crying may act as a way of letting go of the toxic chemicals and calm down your emotions following the cry session.
In our society, crying is oftentimes looked at as a weakness or vulnerability, when in fact crying can make one feel stronger. The University of Tillburg performed a study in which they asked 60 individuals to watch two sad movies, 28 cried and 32 did not. The participants rated their moods immediately following the end of the movie, 20 minutes after, and then 90 minutes. Those who did not cry marked that they had unchanged feelings at each of the intervals, while those who did cry felt sad after the movie, back to normal at 20 minutes, and better than before the movie started at 90 minutes. An event that strikes tears may ruin one’s mood immediately following the end of crying, but within time the individual’s mood will be improved and even better than before the tears
Next time you feel the tears coming, don’t blink them away, but rather let it all out. You will release stress hormones during the cry and boost you mood following the tears. Don’t take those little wet droplets for granted as they are the ultimate protection of your eyes and mood boosters.