It’s (Biologically) Okay To Cry


To say I’m an emotional person is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been told that, in a way, I never left toddlerhood: when I’m happy, it’s an all-encompassing happiness, but when I’m upset, it’s an all-encompassing sadness.

You have feel deeply — and deeper than the average — to be a creative person. You need to experience the world in a way that forces you to filter it out through writing, painting, singing, constructing. You need to know what it’s like to experience Joy in order to write about regular Joy. You need to experience Sadness2 in order to sing about regular Sadness. And you need to experience Beauty2 in order to paint regular Beauty.

A couple days ago, I had made a silly mistake. Incredibly silly. I had purchased food for a party, only to forget to put the perishables away in the fridge, leaving some very delicate items — shrimp, milk, etc — out to grow warm and spoil. We had a lot to do before the party and we were running low on time. And we now had to drive out to the nearby grocery store to replace what had gone bad.

I was frustrated, I was mad at myself (“They just sat there on the kitchen island. I should’ve known better. I should’ve put them away. I should’ve cleared off the kitchen island so it wasn’t so cluttered and the grocery bags would’ve stuck out more.”), and I actually started to cry. I then got mad at the fact that I was crying and berated myself even further for getting so upset over such a dumb mistake.

I tried to get a few things done before we went back to the grocery store, obsessed with the fact that we were running low on time and there was still so much to do. But I was putting things away with a little too much force. I was scrubbing at the counter with a little too much elbow grease. I wasn’t closing the pantry door so much as I was slamming it. My husband suggested I take a breather — that the party prepping could wait. I dismissed the idea, saying that there was too much to do and I was already setting things back enough and if I could just stop being so upset, then everything would be fine.

After a moment or two, my husband sat me down with a knowing smile and said simply, “I think I figured you out.” He first pointed out what we already knew: that I have impossibly high standards for myself, which gives me very little room for forgiveness when I mess up. And, because of that, leaving out food made me upset. He then pointed out that how I felt over forgetting the bags was not nearly as big of a deal as how I felt over the fact that I got upset in the first place. He told me, “Instead of accepting your emotions and having a good cry about it, you got mad at yourself for being so trivial. Which made you mad at the drawers and the counters and pantry door.” He then went on the say that the best thing for me to do was accept when I get upset over “little” things (and let the emotions come out through crying), and that the worst thing for me to do was to try to deny how I feel and just get angry about everything.

Humans have two incredible features that almost no other animal has. Features that we tend to not only take for granted, but avoid at all costs: we sweat and we cry. Sweating is why we can run absurdly long distances. And crying is why we can be as intelligent of a species as we are and still go on during some pretty rough times.

Emotional crying is completely different than irritated-eyes crying. The tears when you get something in your eye are essentially saline. Just a nice, clear liquid to wash out your eyes. But emotional tears carry something else: chemicals. Like the adrenocorticotropic hormone. Emotional tears are like the sailors on a ship in the middle of the storm, scooping up water and dumping it overboard in an effort to save the boat.

It’s a little sobering to think about, because it’s a reminder that all those emotions that make us who we are, are really nothing more than a set of chemicals hanging about in our bodies. But, when you think about tears that way, suddenly crying doesn’t seem so petty. In fact, it’s downright efficient. What better way to level out an emotion than to literally remove it from your body? Our ancestors cried because, without it, they would’ve been weighed down by sadness and grief and never would’ve been able to hunt or protect their land.

Most of us spend our entire upbringing being told not to cry. We are given the not-so-subtle message that it’s better to get angry than it is to get sad. And, thanks to years of evolution, sadness over something can quickly manifest into anger. And while it helped our ancestors in beating out the opposing forces, it doesn’t really help the modern-day, civilized human being.

A few days later, I learned that I had forgotten my running equipment in my husband’s car. I’m training for a marathon and every training day counts. I had planned my entire day around that training session. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten the simple task of getting my bag out of the car, especially after spending so much time planning out what I should eat the night before. Instead of stomping around the house trying not to feel upset about something as simple as forgetting a bag, I essentially told myself, “It’s frustrating and upsetting. Is it worth crying over?”

This wasn’t a rhetorical question. I was genuinely wondering if this was something I could cry over. For about 5 seconds, I felt like I was on the verge of crying. And then, the feelings disappeared. I was still frustrated, but it was something I could handle without slamming doors. So I made plans to run the day after instead and went on a bike ride. A bike ride that turned into a story straight out of Lord of the Rings, but I’ve already gone over that day in great detail.