Behavior Modification

Why Do We Get Teary When We’re Tired Or Sick?

a certain sadness 5 21 
Shutterstock

It’s been a big week and you feel exhausted, and suddenly you find yourself crying at a nice nappy commercial. Or maybe you are struck with a cold or the coronavirus and the fact your partner used up all the milk just makes you want to weep.

You may indeed feel sad about being sick or tired, but why the tears? Why can’t you hold things together?

Tears serve multiple psychological functions. Tears act as a physical indicator of our inner emotional state, occurring when we feel intense sadness or intense joy.

Inside our brains, strong emotions activate the central autonomic network. This network is made up of two parts: the sympathetic system (which activates our “fight or flight” response when we perceive danger) and the parasympathetic nervous system, which restores the body to a state of calm.

Strong emotions activate the sympathetic part of this system, but when we cry, the parasympathetic part is activated, making us feel better.

What happens when we’re stressed or tired?

We are trained from a young age to control our emotions, with socially sanctioned times to express emotion, refraining from physical displays of negative emotion. For example, crying during a sad movie is fine, but crying at work is usually seen as less acceptable.

The prefrontal cortex, or the cool, thinking part of our brain, responds to the emotional signals released by the central autonomic network, helping us regulate the emotional response to deal with our emotions in controlled ways. The prefrontal cortex is like the main processor of your computer, managing tasks to keep the system functioning well.

Unfortunately, the more stressed and tired we are, or if we experience extended periods of physical or emotional pain, the sympathetic system remains activated. The prefrontal cortex becomes overwhelmed, like a computer that has too many programs running all at once.

The brain becomes less able to regulate our emotions in the expected ways, resulting in visible emotional responses, such as tears or angry outbursts. We might not even realise how overwhelmed we are until tears are running down our face after a seemingly minor incident or experience.

Some people are more likely to cry than others. Women tend to cry more than men, though the extent to which this is due to biological aspects versus expectations of society is unclear.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

People who score high on the personality traits of empathy or neuroticism are more likely to cry more often. Excessive crying can also be a physical indication of depression, as the brain is overwhelmed with emotional pain.

What’s the point of tears?

Beyond psychological reasons, tears play several social roles. Even as our society might disapprove of strong expressions of emotions, tears actually help to create and sustain social bonds.

Tears can act as a cry for help, visibly showing others we are not OK and need support. Tears often generate feelings of sympathy in others, helping us connect with them. Tears can also occur when we feel deep sympathy for another person, crying along with them, which further strengthens social bonds.

Beyond psychological and social reasons, there are also physical reasons for tears. For instance, when we are tired, we work hard to keep our eyes open, which dries out the eyes. Our bodies produce tears to counteract the dryness, keeping the eyes moist so we can see clearly.

Watery eyes are also common in respiratory illnesses such as cold, flu, and the coronavirus. When we have an infection in the body, white blood cells are mobilised to fight the bug. These extra white blood cells can inflame the blood vessels in the eye, which causes the eye ducts to clog, bringing tears.

Tears are a natural part of human functioning. Especially with the pressures the past few years have brought, sometimes there’s nothing better than a good cry to relieve overwhelming emotions. But if you find yourself excessively crying, it might be helpful to talk to your doctor about possible physical or psychological causes.The Conversation

About The Author

Peggy Kern, Associate professor, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

MOST READ

mindfulness and dance mental health 4 27
How Mindfulness And Dance Can Improve Mental Health
by Adrianna Mendrek, Bishop's University
For decades, the somatosensory cortex was considered to only be responsible for processing sensory…
charger incapability 9 19
New USB-C Charger Rule Shows How EU Regulators Make Decisions For The World
by Renaud Foucart, Lancaster University
Have you ever borrowed a friend’s charger only to find it is not compatible with your phone? Or…
man. woman and child at the beach
Is This The Day? Father's Day Turnaround
by Will Wilkinson
It's Father's Day. What's the symbolic meaning? Could something life-changing happen today in your…
how pain killers work 4 27
How Do Painkillers Actually Kill Pain?
by Rebecca Seal and Benedict Alter, University of Pittsburgh
Without the ability to feel pain, life is more dangerous. To avoid injury, pain tells us to use a…
what about vegan cheese 4 27
What You Should Know About Vegan Cheese
by Richard Hoffman, University of Hertfordshire
Fortunately, thanks to the increasing popularity of veganism, food manufacturers have begun…
helath effects of bpa 6 19
What Decades Of Research Document The Health Effects Of BPA
by Tracey Woodruff, University of California, San Francisco
Whether or not you’ve heard of the chemical bisphenol A, better known as BPA, studies show that…
how save m0ney on food 6 29
How To Save On Your Food Bill And Still Eat Tasty, Nutritious Meals
by Clare Collins and Megan Whatnall, University of Newcastle
Grocery prices have taken a hike upwards for a host of reasons, including the rising costs of…
ocean sustainability 4 27
The Health Of The Ocean Hinges On Economics And The Idea Of Infinity Fish
by Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia
Indigenous Elders recently shared their dismay about the unprecedented decline in salmon…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.