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The reason we get a lump in our throat when we’re sad

It’s the first date you’ve been on since your ex left. You’ve met someone on Tinder and things are going unexpectedly well. You find it easy to talk to each other and you make each other laugh. There’s some real chemistry between you. But everything falls apart when you walk into a pub and suddenly realise that this is where you first met your ex.

You feel like crying, but you make a superhuman effort to hold back the tears. And that’s when you notice it: a lump in your throat.

Why does this happen to us when we’re trying not to cry? The answer can be found in our nervous system.

Ad Vingerhoets, a clinical psychologist at Tilburg University, explained to IFL Science that when something causes us stress, our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate all increase. And this last symptom is primarily what affects our throat: “The faster rate of respiration impacts the muscle that controls the opening of the throat called the glottis which is located in the middle of the larynx.”

When something causes us stress, our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate all increase. And this last symptom is primarily what affects our throat

But why does it feel so much like we have a lump in our throat?

To getter a better idea of this phenomenon, Vingerhoets offers two explanations. The first is related to the glottis. The suggestion is that when we try to swallow in response to the crying, we exert pressure on the muscles, and the resulting tension gives us the feeling of having a lump in our throat.

The second theory places an emphasis on how our attempt to avoid crying is accompanied by stopped breathing, which results in a battle between opposing forces to expand and contract the glottis at the same time, hence the tightness we feel in our throat.

The solution? Don’t hold back. Let those tears flow, and you’ll probably feel a lot better afterwards.


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