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To Cry or Not to Cry?

To Cry or Not to Cry?

It’s easy to find research espousing the benefits of a good cry. According to Dr. Judith Orloff of Psychology Today, continuous crying (i.e. the emotional kind as opposed to the “there’s something-in-my-eye” kind) can help us to get rid of stress hormones and toxins; produce some of those glorious natural painkilling endorphins; and achieve a “calmer emotional and biological state”.¹

We’ve probably all had a few crying sessions that support this idea. I bet you can remember a time when a bout of the ol’ face rain allowed you to feel a bit better and maybe even helped you to connect with another person over something traumatic so you could better support each other.

Tears can release emotional stress

No doubt crying is a healthy and important part of life, why else would my eyes start welling up in the middle of what is clearly a poorly-acted rom com with a perfectly predictable plot? Our bodies are wired to perform this biological function from the moment we enter the world. Tears not only serve to help us release emotional stress, but also help us to communicate our needs. But when migraine joins the party, is a good cry always a good thing?

Migraine pain that could make you cry

Like many people who live with migraine, my attacks involve a lot of head and jaw pain. Basically, it feels as if all the little muscles in my face and skull become tight, rigid, inflamed, and raw. Lucky for me, I’ve found that ice, peppermint oil, the Cefaly, combined with acute medication can actually provide some significant pain relief. Despite the lingering fatigue, nausea, and full-body muscle weakness, when my head pain is under control I’m less inclined to wail like a baby leaving the comfort of its mother’s womb for a shockingly harsh loud and bright world.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Back in the days when I had very little arsenal against migraine head pain, sometimes it was so bad that I couldn’t stop myself from crying if a wanted to. At the time, migraine was still a new thing in my life, and my grieving for lost abilities and opportunities was at its most intense. I was in severe pain, and I was really, really, really, really sad! Whether I liked it or not, hundreds of tears were waiting in the wings all day long, ready to spring onto the stage at any moment. When the pain came, they were screaming “That’s our call!! CHORUS NUMBER!!!”

Another migraine catch-22

The problem was that the physical act of crying created more face tension and head pain, and the sound of my own vocalizations was painful. But try sobbing like Clare Danes at the end of Romeo and Juliet without tensing your jaw, wrinkling your eyes, or making a sound. Yeah. That’s what I thought. And if I tried to keep the floodgates closed, that also created tension. Another classic migraine catch-22. (Why are there so many migraine catch-22s? I feel separate post coming on.).

I did find, however, that if I cried long enough and hard enough, sometimes I would become so exhausted that my body would start to relax a bit and I could fall asleep. That counted for something.

A complicated relationship with tears

Even though my head pain is better controlled and I am more accepting of this neurobiological disease in my life than I was several years ago, I still have a complicated relationship with tears for fear of exacerbating the pain even though I know, more often than not, a good cry for me is a good thing.

So I’m curious, migraine.com community, how does crying interact with your symptoms? Is it a trigger for you? A mechanism for relief? An emasculating embarrassment best avoided at all costs? A beloved pastime best enjoyed with a bucket of cookie dough ice cream?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Orloff J. The Health Benefits of Tears. Psychology Today. 2010. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-freedom/201007/the-health-benefits-tears. Accessed November 16, 2016.

Comments

  • jchancey77
    2 months ago

    I had a migraine this morning and then my husband said d
    Something that hit a nerve and tears welled up in my eyes, I didn’t start “bawling” but tears started flowing and my migraine actually subsided right then! Coincidence!?! I don’t know, I mean I did take Imitrex about 40 minutes prior so maybe, butt it really did feel like something pent up was released. We have a lot of stress right now!

  • iulloa
    2 years ago

    Regardless of what or who makes me cry, the very act is absolutely a trigger for me. Then in the midst of the attack the pain from it is awful, but I am learning to force my face and head to be as still as possible. I find that I want to find relief by sobbing from the pain, but I know that I prolong the attacks just with the pressure and tension. I feel the tears just fall, but I just keep my face mask on, and avoid any movement for as long as I’m able to. I have yet to find relief. I’ve always suffered from migraines, but last month and this week I have has more attacks then I ever have before. I’m scared of them because I cant be in any light or around any sound for 2-3 days, they get better, and come back again at night. I’m 33, and they are only getting worse. Crying just seems to make the nausea/vomiting more pronounced too. Sometimes the pain is just too much.

  • Leigh
    2 years ago

    Crying is definitely a trigger. I hate it, because I am an emotional person. I cry because I am happy, sad, frustrated, mad, or empathetic. I am not embarrassed about it. I just avoid it because I know the pain is coming.

    I have noticed that when I am having a migraine, and I use an ice pack on my eyes, they tear up, and that is relieving. I don’t think the tears are what causes the pain. It is the pressure from the act of crying. I also get snotty and my sinus and nasal membranes swell. It is also possible the hormones created by the emotions could be contributing. Stress is also a trigger, so I can see how emotional changes could precede the migraine.

    I am a little less worried about an occasional cry now than I used to be, because of the treatments I have found that work. For so many years, I didn’t even know my headaches were migraines. Once diagnosed in my 40’s, I have found some treatments, both preventive and after onset, that have given me some relief. Thanks for everyone who has contributed. It has been great to read and relate.

  • Jeani
    2 years ago

    Yes, I’ve found that hard crying often resulted in a headache as a child. But afterwards I would get a very relaxing sleep as I do now after a migraine assault. I didn’t know anything about migraines then. Also I lived in a very temporal climate with a steady barametric pressure, so I hadn’t experienced the many seizure like symptoms I now get, nor the skull splitting headaches.
    I have also suffered from major depression, so I work hard at not letting myself get into an emotional state of extreme crying, fearful of a bout of unrelenting depression.
    That said, Now when I’m having auras, one of my symptoms Is often a short bout of unemotional crying. Often at the end of a seizure like episode I will cry a bit, then yawn extensively, then it’s over. I may or may not get a headache after that. Or it may come the next day.

  • Janet
    2 years ago

    Crying….nope…crying ALWAYS…did I say always, in case I didn’t, crying ALWAYS triggers a migraine…hard not to sometimes…especially last week which marked the first anniversary of my mom’s death, her birthday 2 days later and my birthday is this Saturday…NOT crying is a must and so hard NOT to do……

    Janet Jones

  • Holly H.
    2 years ago

    My sister and I have a saying, “Don’t cry. Don’t vomit. It only makes things worse.” Sometimes one just can’t stem the tide, but knowing that it Will Definitely Make Things Worse is a pretty good deterrent most of the time for me. And, once I get started crying, I have an awful time getting it stopped… reckon that is a neurological thing?

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Holly, thanks for being here and sharing your story.

    You bring up an interesting question. Neurology is a kind of structural science dealing with the structure and integrity of the bones of the neural system – the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. With the exception of PBA, which is a neurological condition, crying is driven by our emotions, which are controlled by our neurochemicals and hormones. There is an interesting study, Neural circuits underlying crying and cry responding in mammals, which explores not only the neurochemistry of crying, but also of our reactions to crying, that you might enjoy reading.

    We’re glad you’re here! -All Best, Donn (Migraine.com team)

  • ivyvyne
    2 years ago

    Thank you for this! It’s extremely validating. Like you, I went through a period of time when my migraines weren’t well-managed. Sometimes the pain was unbearable and I couldn’t help but cry from the frustration. Like others who have commented, crying can also be a trigger for me, so I kind of have mixed feelings about it. I don’t think it’s right or fair to have to suppress emotions as they come up for fear of having a migraine, but at the same time, it can be hard to let it out when you know what the physical repercussions might be.

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    I would respond to “neither” or “other” but which would be best is beyond the my deductive reasoning today. Winter storms keep flowing through causing barometric pressure fluctuations. I am physically functional but … thinking is rather myopic. 🙂

  • Jeani
    2 years ago

    I’m having the same issues. But, it’s affecting me greatly physically also. I can’t even stand up. Usually my migraines are worse during the summer during high pressure systems, but this month I’ve been down for a over 15 days already. We are having the same weather you discribe, storm after storm, but it doesn’t get much warmer in between. I guess the barametric pressure is still changing enough to affect me or I’m getting more sensitive.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks again for the input Luna regarding the poll! Those answers have been incorporated.

    Sure hope you get a break from those storms!
    -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    This weeks survey.
    Is crying a trigger or mechanism of relief for you?
    Trigger
    Relief
    I am unsure

    It is not a trigger or relief and I am not unsure about that. Sometimes the answers given do not fit so I do not respond to the surveys.

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    Meant to respond here but …. by the time I logged in had forgotten. Am really being entertained by my word salad thinking. Peace and Courage.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi there Luna!
    Thank you for the input regarding this week’s poll…we always appreciate member feedback!

    Do you mind if I ask how you think the answers may be better or edited to fit this particular question? We will likely be adding a “neither” or “other” as an option.

    We always love hearing from you as you are such an engaging and supportive member of our community…thank you!
    Have a great night!
    Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • quilter laura
    2 years ago

    You’ll probably find this super strange, but sometimes when I have a bad migraine, crying actually relieves the pain to a more tolerable level. As if the pain flows out with my tears.

    I can’t force the tears to come if it’s a different type of migraine and it’s not even necessarily with the worst ones. And when they’re coming, I don’t think I could hold them back even if I wanted to.

    The only downside I’ve found is that this crying tends to freak other people out and makes them fuss over me and everything is magnified, their talking seems like yelling, etc. If I can cry in solitude in a dark, quilt place and then sleep it off, that is a pretty good remedy.

  • Jani8
    2 years ago

    If I cry during a migraine it does make it feel like my head will either explode or implode. However, a big cry when I don’t have a headache will trigger one. If I do a little crying perhaps watching a movie, that doesn’t seem to trigger one. It’s good I don’t cry very often at a movie. Except for Titanic and Les Miserables. They caused big crying and then the migraine.

  • Tamara
    2 years ago

    I cry for a couple different reasons.

    Physical pain: because none of my meds are working yet (waiting for them to kick in) or not at all and it’s time for an urgent care or ER visit.

    mental prodrome: I often get a rush of emotions over something and start bawling as a prodrome symptoms before a bad migraine flare. I only recently noticed this and really have to watch and think it through because I tend to forget. Sometimes out of the blue and sometimes because I notice other symptoms first and know that I will have a migraine tomorrow and be out of comission and in severe pain

    Depression: a think a lot of my crying is actually coming from my depression but it is interlinked with the migraines – worse pain = worse depression. Definitely happening a lot lately (a touch better than a few months ago though). In the fall I literally had full days I won’t stop crying for more than half an hour – now I fall apart and regroup or try again the next day.

    Hope that helps someone

  • Jeani
    2 years ago

    I also have the depression, though mostly under control. I only allow a little silent weeping to keep it under wraps. I try to change my thoughts or find a distraction. But lately I’ve been getting anxiety attacks as part of my migraines. With those I tense up and feel a lot of fear and a very tense and uncontrollable cry or scream comes out. Surprisingly some of the same things that ward off the headaches, such as, coffee, or sleep can get rid of them. And, they are like my other early symptoms, very short, but frightening, episodes.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for giving us such an intimate look into your journey. I also suffer from migraine and depression, and it does help knowing that your thoughts are not so foreign. that your feelings are not so weird, that you are not so alone in the world.

    Thanks for being part of the community, and for your generosity of spirit. We’re glad you’re here. -Warmly, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    Crying makes my head feel worse. Anyway I’m not a crier. But sometimes in the prodrome I feel like I want to run screaming down the road. So I go to the back room and let out a loud bellow or two. No high pitched screaming a loud low bellow. The way the cats look at me is so funny that I laugh. That releases the tension and I may not be better but at least that inner tension (hopeless, helpless, not again, impending doom) is gone.

  • Jeani
    2 years ago

    That sounds good to me. A scream would hurt so bad. But a loud roar from the lower diagram might just help. I know I’ve been practicing breathing techniques lately, and when I let air forcefully from my lower diagram, it gives me a dealing of power. “I am woman. Hear me roar.”

  • Falcon6
    2 years ago

    Crying makes my head feel like it is going to explode! It will trigger a migraine everytime. As with many of us here, I live with daily head pain and I do get emotionally and physically worn down, but I try my best to keep from crying … and the swollen, stuffy, running nose?? That gives me anxiety & compounds the misery. When I have migraine I am hyper sensitive to every discomfort. I avoid crying when at all possible, it never feels like a relief to me.

  • Maureen
    2 years ago

    I have found three reasons for crying associated with migraine: 1) it’s a prodrome symptom. If I start crying for no apparent reason, I have a migraine coming on. It’s a “heads up” that I need to get out the abortives and take action; 2) It’s an emotional response to the frustration of “not again.” This usually happens when I am on a bad jag. It’s often hormones and weather ganging up on me, and I am at a low point emotionally. This is a “heads up” to me and those around me that I probably need more help than usual. I usually handle my migraines on my own. But if there is emotional crying going on, I need emotional support. Not necessarily, physical; 3) The third kind of crying is my head is going to explode and I have run out of medical abortive/rescue options. I am at the end of my migraine toolbox as well as my emotional reserve. In this case, I need emotional, physical, and medical help.
    All of that being said, I am often the only one who can tell the difference between the types of crying. Sometimes, #3 is obvious, but sometimes it is not because I have been handling my meltdown on my own up until the point where I go over the edge. I am not the best communicator when I am migraining, and I can’t imagine I am the only one with that issue, huh?

    So, anyway, I have never seen it as a trigger, but it plays a frequent part in the action!

    Here’s to happier days, migraine.com people!

  • Jeani
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much Maureen, you have just validated that my occasional crying for no reason is a prodronme symptom. For me it’s usually short and mixed with some other neurological systems. But I’m just beginning to understand that the so called “non-epileptic seizures” I’ve been having for years are migraine auras. This was discovered through a gene study and I haven’t been able to see a migraine specialist yet.

  • Devonlee
    2 years ago

    Crying is the worse thing I could do if I have a migraine. I don’t care how much pain I am in I would never ever cry. It has never made me feel better in any way physically or emotionally.

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