Why do we cry?

My days are covered in tears. My pillows, blankets and clothes are wet. I feel like I’m dehydrated, waking up with the feeling of a hangover every morning without drinking any alcohol. I have been crying for 4 days now, and nothing can make it stop, I just continue sobbing like a leaky rain shower. I am not crying about a particular thing, I don’t feel a sadness about a specific problem, I just cry.

I look at my bunny and notice how he doesn’t cry, ever. He just sheds some tears when something gets into his eyes, but never because he feels lonely or hungry, never because of an emotion. It is strange that we humans are the only animals that cry like this. It is weird that we cry because of what we feel, it doesn’t make sense to me, not compared to the other fluids that come out of our bodies, the ones that make sense, that seem to have a function.

Why do I cry? And why do people in general cry? The waterfalls that originates in my eyes and have been streaming for so long now don’t seem to stop and I want to know the reason behind them. I want to understand what is happening with me.

Types of tears

We humans, have 3 different types of tears, 3 reasons to make a salty fluid appear in our eyes and run down our cheeks.

  • Basal tears, the ones that keep out eyes moist. The basal tears appear every time we blink and in a way these tears are kind of comforting to me, in a way everyone cries the entire time, I’m not the only one.
  • Reflex tears are the tears that appear when we cut an onion or encounter another type of toxin or irritation. The reflex tears are the once I notice in my bunny.
  • Emotional tears, the tears that only humans produce as a reaction to our emotions. These tears are caused by our feelings and are a response to our experiences.

Reasons for emotional tears

Since my eyes are not irritated, I don’t have a hidden pile of cut onions somewhere in my apartment, nor any other toxins or hard wind, I must be suffering from an extreme stream of emotional tears. But since I’m not particularly sad, I started to dig deeper into the science of tears, the reason why we cry emotional tears, what their purpose is. It turns out there is much more behind this liquid of sadness, tears are not as much without functions as I expected them to be. Our emotional tears come with a lot more than just fluid and a couple of wet napkins.

  • Tears show that we need help. How many times where you able to walk away and ignore a person close to you when his or her eyes where filled with tears? Maybe you have succeeded during a bad breakup but otherwise you probably stayed and tried to help the other person. Research shows that crying is an attachment behavior, encouraging the people around us to help and support us.
  • Tears are soothing. I found a study that shows how our tears activate our parasympathic nervous system (PNS), also called the rest and digest system. The PNS that is activated when we cry slows down our heart beat and relaxes our muscles. It calms us down and reduces our feeling of destress
  • Tears make us feel good. Instead of eating a box of chocolates when we feel sad, we could just cry a little harder and protect ourself from an overload of calories. Research has found that tears release oxytocin and endorphins, the things that come from for example chocolate and sex, the chemicals that make us feel good, that ease our pain, both emotional as well as physical.
  • Tears release the bad things. Emotional tears contain a higher level of stress hormones compared to the other types of tears, besides, they contain toxins. Although more research is needed for official proof, tears most probably reduce the level of stress in our bodies.

Why do I cry?

Probably all of the above. When I stop crying, I end up in a panic attack, I can’t breath, I hyperventilate, my chest hurts and I my heart beats way too fast. When I start crying again, I slow down, I can catch my breath and my heart beat returns to normal (-ish), I relax a little and for a while I feel a bit better.

I believe my tears are an emotional reaction to the panic that comes with losing myself, the stress that comes from feeling completely lost. My tears are not a result of a feeling of sadness like the usual tears, but a reaction to the panic and stress that have taken over, a reaction to my inability to calm down and the tears are a way in which my body tries to force me and help me to relax.


I did not allow myself to cry for more than a decade. I kept hiding all the stress and pain I have ever felt, locked it somewhere inside me, never releasing the sadness I always labeled as weakness. I did not realize that I just kept walking around with all this negativity inside me.

Now I have opened up the cupboards and drawers inside my brain that I used to hide all my sadness, or emotions in general, and everything finds a way out. I might not have a particular reason to cry right now, but I had many throughout my life, many tears I did not allow and ended up storing inside myself. I kept piling them up while I thought they had disappeared.

I am not sure if I’m depressed or just completely burned out. I am not sure what is happening to me in the past month, I don’t know what is wrong. But after reading about tears, about their function, I realize now, more than ever, that I should have cried, I should have released the pain and anger I have experienced throughout my life. I can understand the harm I did to myself by piling up all this negativity, all the toxins that come with it.

But I didn’t cry and now my tears are catching up with me. I should allow myself to cry, to finally release all the bad things, all the stress and pain, all the negativity. It has to come out and apparently this is the time to finally release, finally let go and finally get the professional help I should have had so much sooner.

Look for help

When you find yourself crying like me, unstoppable or very frequently it is important to look for help from a professional. Emotional tears are good and even healthy but too much of them can be a sign of depression. Try to talk to a doctor if your tears are taking over like mine, when you find yourself:

  • crying very frequently
  • crying for no apparent reason
  • unable to do (all) your daily activities because of the tears
  • not in control of your tears

One thought on “Why do we cry?

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