A Crying Shame

Last week my mother was here visiting and when she left on Wednesday I spent the first 10 minutes of my walk to the train station bawling like a baby. Thank goodness I had the sense to wear big dark sunglasses to work – even though it wasn't exactly sunny.

I'm not sure what to make of this episode – I'm not even sure why I was crying. I was certainly sad she was leaving but at the same time it was a real visceral thing, a pure emotional response to something that I couldn't quite pin down, like a table cloth flapping in a sudden wind gust.

Which brings me to the topic of crying in general. From my own personal experience and talking to people that I know, women seem to do it more than men. Research backs this up. According to a study done in the 1980s by Dr. William Frey at the St. Paul-Ramsey Center at the University of Minneapolis (which was the first study to look at the biological role of emotional tears versus eye irritation tears), women reported crying five times as frequently as men.

His study also showed for the first time that emotional tears had a higher protein content than the eye irritation ones, which began to back up his theory that tears help rid the body of stress-inducing hormones. Around the same time there was a separate study that showed people with stress-related illness (ulcers and colitis) were more likely to view crying as sign of weakness or loss of control.

I'm not sure if more research was completed in this specific area of stress and crying, but I was able to find a more recent article that did report emotional tears contain more manganese, an element that affects temperament, and more prolactin, a hormone that regulates milk production. Sobbing out these substances is thought to relieve tension by balancing the body’s stress levels and eliminating the build up of these chemicals, making the crier feel better. The prolactin element might have something to do with why women cry more than men; women have more prolactin than men – which makes sense as they produce milk. But I couldn't find any further research in this area.

From my own personal experience, crying is a real stress reliever. Often when I cry it's actually because things I'm frustrated with have piled up substantially, and so when my future husband (let's call him the Future Hub) asks me what's wrong, it takes me a while to sort through everything that's knocking around in my brain.

That's why, sometimes when I'm feeling low and just need to let it all out, it's better to turn on an episode of Grey's Anatomy. There's always some requisite tear-jerker moment – you'd have to be made of stone not to cry – and I can let it all out without anyone asking me what's wrong.

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