What It Means If You Feel A Lump In Your Throat Before Crying

The moment your voice starts to tremble, your facial muscles tense up, and your eyes begin welling with tears, you know a hearty cry is on the horizon. We often associate crying with sadness. However, science tells us that a bout of tears can serve emotional purposes as well as various physiological purposes.

According to 2014 literary research published in Frontiers in Psychology, there is evidence to suggest that crying acts as a means of self-soothing, an attachment behavior between infants and caregivers, and may support blood detoxification through the release of stress hormones in your tears. While research has shown mixed results regarding this link between crying and the purging of toxins from your blood, one study found that women who cried more heavily after watching a sad film experienced a reduction in cortisol levels in samples of their saliva.

Before we cry, the body undergoes a number of preparatory actions. For some, this includes the feeling of a lump lodged in the throat. If you've experienced this sensation, it means your body has entered fight-or-flight mode, reports BBC Science Focus.

The release of adrenaline causes our throat muscles to tighten before we cry

Believe it or not, that lump-in-the-throat sensation you feel before you cry actually has a name. Known as globus pharyngeus, it occurs when your throat muscles constrict, according to BBC Science Focus. More specifically, it's the pharynx and the muscles around your voice box that tense up. This constriction happens because your body finds itself in fight-or-flight mode. The body enters this state in anticipation of danger, whether the threat is real or not. When in fight-or-flight mode, your heartbeat may accelerate, your breathing quickens, and your eyesight actually improves to make you better equipped to survive (via Cleveland Clinic). Additionally, the body releases adrenaline into the bloodstream, which can prompt muscle constriction in the throat and elsewhere.

It's your sympathetic nervous system that kicks your fight-or-flight reaction into gear. During this process, one of the messages it delivers to the body is the need for more air. In response, your throat muscles tighten to keep your airway open for longer. This can make swallowing difficult and leave you feeling as if a mass is wedged in your throat.

Variations in crying behavior and when to seek help

The frequency, duration, and patterns of one's crying behavior will vary from one individual to the next. Environment, age, or societal views on crying are just a few of the many contributing factors that may influence the release of tears. Demonstrating this variation, a 2018 research article published in Clinical Autonomic Research: Official Journal of the Clinical Autonomic Research Society outlined how some studies have shown that women tend to cry four to five times monthly, with men crying an average of zero to once every month.

We now know that there is an underlying physiological mechanism as to why we may feel a lump in the throat before we cry. However, if you find that you've been tearing up more than usual lately — particularly if this is coupled with feelings of anxiety or depression — it may mean that you could benefit from mental health support. Reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional if you have questions or concerns about your crying behavior.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.