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By Katherine Schreiber
Crying: It's the very first item on the to-do list of life. From there on out, it's anyone's guess what will crank the waterworks. Some of us get weepy when we're sad
or angry, others at the sight of an adorable baby animal, the sound of the National Anthem, or watching a favorite rom-com for the umpteenth time. We all do it for different reasons, and some of us more than others, but we all know what it feels like to well up and burst out.It's All Right to Cry: The Science and Sociology of Letting It All Out
Many theories abound as to why, exactly, we cry. Some scientists
see our bawling as a means of regulating arousal: A little blubbering slows down breathing, prompts us to seek comfort, and relieves stress (literally — emotional tears contain high concentrations of stress hormones as well as pain-killing endorphins!)Related: Why It's Good To Feel Sad Sometimes
Crying is also an important tool of social communication, mobilizing emotional support, signaling surrender, distress, attachment to others, and group cohesion. “Human tears may blunt aggression and indicate submission to attackers,” says psychology professor and author of The Science of Emotion Randolph Cornelius, adding that it's "like the way dogs roll onto their bellies to say, 'okay, you’ve beaten me.'” Studies have even demonstrated that the scent of women’s tears can reduce men’s testosterone levels and sexual desire.
It may come as no surprise that the more anxious and moody amongst us tend to cry more often. Extroverts experience more relief from crying than introverts, likely because the former feel more comfortable (read: less embarrassed) expressing themselves around others in general. And, women tend to cry between two to four times as often as men — a result of biological factors (such as increased estrogen and prolactin) and social norms. (Intriguingly, however, the higher men’s self-esteem, the more likely they are to report that they cry. Researchers surmise that high self-esteem may buffer men from the “shame” of flouting gender stereotypes.)Innocent Crystander? How To Tend To 8 Types Of Tearjerkers
When comforting criers, psychologist Nancy Freeman-Carroll recommends trying to match the rhythm of a crier’s sobs with your own voice. “Making similar noises while rubbing or patting the person’s back can help bring their distress down—just like a mother’s empathetic oohs and ahhs matched to a baby’s cries soothe her child,” Freeman-Carroll says.Related: Does Crying Make Us Feel Better?
Averse to reaching out to a friend or stranger in tears? You’re not alone. Only 25% of adult study participants shown pictures of crying adults said they’d be likely to comfort the crier in question. (Eighty-three percent of subjects shown photos of crying babies, however, were inclined to help soothe.) Researchers believe this reflects our cultural denouncement of “weakness” in adulthood — a reflection of societal pressures to appear stronger for the sake of social cohesion.
We all have our own style when it comes to turning on the waterworks. We’ve taken a stab at rounding up all the kinds of criers out there, along with tips from experts on how to tend to criers in your presence.