People cry not only when they are sad, but sometimes also when they are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or restless. Crying occurs when our brain activates our body’s stress response.
Not many studies have been done on the act of resisting the urge to cry but we all are familiar with the sensation we feel when we try to hold back our tears. Here is how our body reacts when we try to hold back our tears.
When a tear-inducing event occurs, our stress response starts to work in the amygdala, which is the gray matter inside the brain responsible for the perception of emotion.
The amygdala sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which tells the rest of the body to act accordingly. It tells our pituitary gland that there is some danger (stress), which triggers the gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormones, as per Harvard Health Publishing.
This hormone then travels to the adrenal gland, which is located right above the kidneys and causes them to release cortisol, the stress hormone.
The hypothalamus also activates the sympathetic nervous system, this part of the system controls the body functions that get triggered in a fight-or-flight response.
When you are on the verge of crying but try to hold back your tears, the sympathetic nervous system speeds up your heart rate and the contractions of your heart muscle.
When the big blood vessel gets dilated, it increases the amount of blood that gets pumped to these parts of the body and thus elevates your blood levels.
When you experience intense emotions and let your body release it (by crying) you might experience shortness of breath and rapid breathing. This happens because when you are stressed, the airways between the nose and the lungs become tight.
The rapid release of hormones sends extra blood to all the muscles of the body. This happens more when there is a physical stressor, like a car coming your way. You quickly get on the side, even before you consciously register the car coming your way.