Everyone knows what it feels like when you cry: the world stops. Your brainwaves sync up with the Bon Iver station and the stage hand dims the set of your life to grey. A torrid ocean emerges from your gut and explodes into the abyss through your eyes. Breath escapes you. A weight presses on your diaphragm and your heart does the triple time step. And for the grand finale, your face melts off into a puddle on the floor.
But what you might not know, is that while crying might feel like an entirely emotional behavior, it's actually rooted in an evolutionary survival tactic. There are three types of tears: basal, reflex and psychic. Psychic tears, or florid tears, are the crying tears are the type we'll discuss here. These are the tears that are produced as a response to sadness, anger, frustration, pleasure or pain. These tears are particularly awesome because they're supercharged with a "calm down" cocktail. These stress tears are infused with endorphins and painkilling cues to help soothe the iris. They're triggered by your neurotransmitters that send that specific brand of tears for that specific reason: to protect your eyes, and calm you the F down.
So really, tears are little helpers your brain sends your face to help blunt the situation. That said, there's a reason people often prescribe a good cry for relief. Crying enhances your mood and physical state, so go ahead, it's your party, cry if you want to. This is what happens to your body when you do:
The Endocrine System Sends Hormones That Release The Tears
After something triggers an emotional response — a wine drunk viewing of The Notebook, for instance — the endocrine system, responsible for producing hormones through its array of glands, releases hormones to the ocular area and causes your eyes to fill up with tears.
Your Body Goes Into Fight Or Flight Mode
During an emotional build up, everyone's favorite stress hormone, cortisol, is released by the brain, sending your body into fight or flight mode. It may make you feel hyper aware of what's going on around you (which only magnified that embarrassing feeling you got in elementary school when you cried in front of classmates).
A Phantom Lump Appears In Your Throat
Cortisol also slows your breathing, and creates tension in throat — which is why you've heard the words "lump in your throat" described in every crying scene of your favorite novel. The technical term for it is actually the globus sensation, which is what happens when inflammation in your throat gives you the feeling that there is a mass inside of it, even when there isn't.
You Release Toxins Specific To This Type Of Tear
When we cry, our bodies get rid of toxins — with emotional tears, there is a release of leucine-enkephalin, an endorphin that reduces pain and helps to improve your mood. This is a super important detox because it helps to reduce stress immediately. You know how your mom always told you that you'd feel better after a "good cry"? Science has got her back on this one.
So the next time you feel like you need a good cry, go for it, you probably do. And you'll feel a lot better if you give into it.
You Signal To Other Humans That You're In Pain
Although many animals cry out when they are in pain or emotionally distressed, humans remain the only known species that produces actual tears. Evolutionary theorists think that the purpose for this wasn't just to release chemicals, but to signal to other humans that we were in pain, and trigger their sympathy. You can't help but react sympathetically to someone you see crying, whether it's a stranger or your best friend — this community-strengthening tool might be what fostered the early development of tears.