Anyone who knows me well enough, knows that I cry when I laugh. The most annoying part though is the fact that it is never just a tear or two. Whenever I laugh really hard I have a stream of tears running down my face for a good five minutes. I can’t control it! Lately, I have been wondering why that is, and should I be concerned for my health and wellness so I thought I’d share my research with you.

Laughing and Crying are Similar

One thing to take into consideration is that crying and laughs are similar psychological reactions to high states of emotional arousal, they have lingering effects, and they don’t necessarily come and go cleanly. People connect crying with sadness; however, crying is even a more complex human response. Tears are caused by a variety of reasons, such as sadness, pain, and in sometimes even extreme amusement. It’s just the way humans have evolved.

Learn the 6 ways Laughter can improve Children's Wellbeing

So we know that tears are often triggered by pain, sadness, and clearly, extreme joy, but is that good or bad?

Well, apparently, it’s a really positive thing for our health and wellness. And that’s because of cortisol and adrenaline. I’ll try to explain…

Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. Adrenaline is another stress hormone. It is produced within the adrenal gland and it makes your heart beat faster, strengthens the force of your hearts contraction, and opens up your lungs. The fact that cortisol and adrenaline are both stress hormones is also the reason why crying when you laugh is really good for you. It doesn’t matter whether you are crying or laughing, but both responses ease stress. Therefore, they counteract the effects of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Reflex Tears

Another explanation can be attributed to the brain sending signals to the tear ducts as a result of vigorous laughter.

The tears produced in this situation are known as reflex tears, because they’re the result of an external stimulus, much like when you walk in a brisk wind or get dust or grit in your eyes.

Believe it or not, tears of joy and tears of grief consist of different chemical compositions. Emotional driven tears contain more hormones, including a natural painkiller, than reflex tears.

All of this got me thinking about the opposite effect, laughing when I should be crying.

Because crying and laughing provides the same kind of release for physiological stress, and it’s often a defence mechanism when people are feeling uncomfortable about a situation, or when they become overwhelmed. When people hold back their tears, it interferes with their body’s ability to relieve the build-up of anxiety, causing them to release the energy through laughter instead. When people laugh or cry, it is an involuntary subconscious attempt at calming down and reducing stress. However, nervous laughter is usually interpreted not to be genuine by others, and can unfortunately amplify the awkwardness of any situation. If someone is laughing during a tragic event, just remember that they probably cannot control it. They may be at a point where their body simply needs to release it.

As a person who believes in wellness through laughing I would like to think that I cry when I laugh because whatever I am laughing at is just really, really funny. But it is also reassuring to know that there are some clear benefits, like stress-release, to laughter induced tears.

To find out more scientific facts around laughter, you can read the 10 benefits of laughter here.