The science of tears
Scientifically, there are three reasons your eyes produce tears
- To keep your eyes moisturised and healthy
- To clear your eyes of irritation, e.g., a speck of dust, smoke or onion juice – eye washes may also help
There are some medical conditions, such as a blocked tear duct, which cause the eyes to produce more moisture than required. If you think that is why you are crying you should speak to your doctor or optician. These are not crying tears. Only the emotion tears are crying tears.
Have A Good Cry
Any strong emotion can produce tears.
- I’m so happy I could cry
- You broke my heart, I’m drowning in a well of tears
- I’m stressed and can’t cope so I’m sobbing
While your tears are mostly water, they also contain a type of natural pain killer and hormones designed to help with emotional regulation. Perhaps this is why we have the idea of “feeling better after a good cry”.
As crying is a way to release emotion it can also be a very creative state. Many songs and poems are written from places of pain, many pieces of art are expressions of deep emotions.
But I can’t stop crying
If you find yourself crying all of the time or unable to stop crying it may indicate that your body needs more help regulating and soothing than it is able to self provide with the tears.
There may be one big event that has caused most of this emotion.
- Relationship breakdown or problems
- Parents’ divorce
- Best friend arguments
- Boyfriend / girlfriend breakups
- Crush hasn’t noticed you
- You have experienced trauma
- physically (beaten / stabbed / mugged etc)
- victim of war or refugee
- car crash
- Too much stress
- Lots of deadlines
- Spinning lots of plates at once
- Responsible for caring for others
- Not supported to do these things or afraid of what would happen if you stopped
- Keeping secrets
- Hiding the real you from others in case they reject you
- Lying to cover up for yourself or someone else
- Grief or bereavement
- Someone has died
- You or someone you love has moved away
- You can no longer do the things that used to make you happy
- Loss of dreams for your future / loss of purpose
- Many other reasons or a collection of many of the above.
How can I stop myself from crying?
Remember that crying is your bodies way of soothing you and that it is a completely normal reaction. Some research even suggests that crying once a week is a good thing for your mental health. But if you do want to stop your tears try this:
1. Focus on your breathing.
It may feel very restricted or uneven. Try to deepen it and lengthen the breaths. This can help to get more oxygen to your brain which can help you to be more rational and less emotional.
2. Distract yourself
Can you say the alphabet backwards? What is the 17 times table? How many animals can you name in 1 minute?
3. Change the music
Often when we are sad or angry we like to select music which is also sad or angry. But the ballad about the broken heart or the rap about how you were wronged is likely to keep you in the same emotional state. Look for music which can help you to be in a different emotional space. Or if you can’t think of music try the sounds of the rain-forest or of water gently flowing. Find something which helps to sooth you rather than deepen the emotion.
The Long Game
These strategies may help in the short term but are unlikely to be long term solutions if you are still carrying around the same emotional baggage or facing the same triggers it is likely the tears will return.
So what can you do?
1) Make some changes
Can you take away some of the pressure points? Spend less time with people who upset you. Change jobs or change form groups in your school. Look at time management so you feel more in control.
Can you do something to help you to relax? Try yoga or meditation. Go outside for a walk. Read a book – either fiction or self help.
2) Get some help
Tell someone how you feel. Maybe a friend or family. Maybe look for support groups. A problem shared is a problem halved.
Counselling or therapy helps some people to explore their emotions, particularly if there are some big things causing the tears. There is a reason psychotherapy is called the Talking Cure. There are also creative forms of therapy such as dramatherapy, art therapy and music therapy which may include some talking but also use their creativity to explore the issues you bring.
“If therapy group patients learn simply that talking helps, that being closer to others feels good, that they may be of use to others – that’s plenty.’”(Yalom, 1999, Momma and the meaning of life: Tales of Psycotherapy. p.57)
Some people find medical help such as anti-depressants useful and these can help you to feel more in control and less overwhelmed. If you are struggling to eat or sleep it can be very difficult to take care of your mental health and this can be a destructive cycle which some people find medication helps them to break out of. Other people find anti-depressants can numb them from the paid but also from joy and feel it does not help them to learn to cope or make the underlying problem go away. Sometimes there can also be unpleasant side effects of medication. If you are thinking about taking them, I encourage you to do some research and speak to a medical professional.
3) Time is the greatest healer
If things are dark right now, that does not mean they will be dark forever.
This does not mean that when enough time has passed you will be just like you were before whatever made you feel sad, but it does mean that with the distance of time you will feel less raw than you do right now.
My Too-Big Emotions Therapy Group
I am running a London therapy group for students in years 7, 8 and 9 to explore their Too-Big Emotions.
“It is possible to feel afraid and be a hero, the strong can cry and beauty and pleasure can be found where we least expect it.’(Seymour in Jennings, Dramatherapy and social theatre. 2009: 31)