Why Your Throat Hurts When You Cry & What You Can Do About It.
The pain experienced in times of anguish has its roots in evolutionary biology. Firstly, if the feeling that brings on tears is particularly intense it can be a scary and overwhelming experience.
And if so, when you begin crying, the fear of the emotion engages the sympathetic nervous system to enervate the Fight or Flight response.
When in fight or flight, your throat (vocal tract) and vocal folds (the muscles used to create sound) expand and widen to allow more oxygen to fill your lungs to fuel a sudden escape or break into a fight. However, swallowing and talking pull the vocal folds back together and run into conflict with all the other muscles trying to keep them apart! The tension created by opposing forces triggers pain and discomfort in the throat.
Furthermore, if you really don’t want to let out what your feeling, holding your breath periodically keeps the emotion at bay; which is why crying tends to be sputtered with a lot of gasping for air. But when we hold our breath to prevent feeling too much this paradoxically closes the vocal folds and narrows the vocal tract!
Therefore, the body is preparing to take in more oxygen, opening the vocal folds, to deal with the threat (the fear of the emotion) and simultaneously working to stem the flow of feeling by closing the vocal folds (limiting the amount of oxygen to plug the feeling).
This is one of the main reasons why you may feel the frog in the throat when crying.
So, how can you get through crying without feeling like your choking?
Unfortunately, there is no easy path or panacea, and like Dante and Virgil, you will have to descend to the depths of the feeling that is creating such a physiological response of fear and foreboding and make an effort to understand its roots. The more you accustom yourself to these feelings, the less fear you have about the unknown, as you begin to realize that you come through intact on the other side. Getting accustomed to the depths of one’s feelings is how actors continue to vocalize when in a high emotional range — the fear has subsided as they are used to the bodily response and it no longer shuts down the parasympathetic nervous system which acts as the brake on the fight or flight response, which means no frog-in-the-throat.
If you are not yet ready at the stage of dealing with the underlying grief or pain, doing things to reignite the parasympathetic nervous system can help reclaim homeostasis in the body, such as; meditation, lying on the floor, listening to a soothing voice, seeking support and very importantly physical touch.
If this feeling is common for you, even when not crying, please consult a therapist or medical professional.