I was watching holiday movies with my family and bawling my eyes out. I have an innate tendency to cry at the drop of a hat. Any movie, no matter how well written or how invested I am in the characters, I will cry. After drying my eyes on the sleeve of my sweater, my head throbbing, I began to wonder why it is crying causes headaches. I always assumed it was from dehydration, but that is far from the truth. I found after much research that headaches is a by product, just as crying and runny noses are, to a chemical, Oxytocin, released in our brains that combats stress.
So crying is triggered when we are stressed. And runny noses and headaches as well. I always thought it was sadness that caused tears, but it is more than that. Jenna Fletcher, a health and wellness writer, wrote,
Sadness triggers stress, which causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol. These hormones stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain that cause physical reactions…
So yes, Sadness triggers tears, but it is the stress from sadness that triggers the waterworks. I suppose the word ‘grief’ sums this up well. The definition of ‘grief’ as by Merriam Webster, is
deep poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement
Distress is what causes tears, so the notion that tears are triggered by grief has some weight to it. This discovery led to another question, If crying is a direct response to feelings distressed, ‘Why do some people cry during movies while others don’t?’ The answer to this is surprising, or at least it was a surprise to me.
Think of crying as a measure as to how connected we feel to characters or how much we relate to a scenario. Crying is a direct look into how empathetic a person is. The more one cries during a movie, the more empathetic they are towards that character. However, crying isn’t just a measure, it is also an augmentor. As John Haltiwanger, Senior Politics writer at Elite Daily, wrote,
Oxytocin is what helps us connect with other humans and compels us to be more empathetic, loving, trusting and unselfish individuals.
Paul J. Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate School and world renowned expert on oxytocin, has “dubbed” it the “moral molecule,” saying,
Oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to helps others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help… So, go see a movie and laugh and cry. It’s good for your brain, and just might motivate you to make positive changes in your life and in others’ lives as well.
Haltiwagner said it well,
If the eyes are the window to the soul, tears are the Windex: They keep things in perspective.