To Cry or Not to Cry?
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Profile photo of Anna Eidt

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.

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?

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!!!”

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.

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?

view references
  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.
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