Mental Health Experts Explain How Crying Is Good For Your Health
In need of a good cry? You're definitely not the only one. Science, feminism, and both Frozen movies all say it'll help you more to let it go rather than hide your emotions. Contrary to patriarchal opinion, a solid session of ugly sobbing is far from weak, because crying is actually good for your health.
"Letting yourself cry has important mental health benefits," says Jill E. Daino, LCSW, BC-TMH, a New York-based therapist with Talkspace, an online therapy company that connects you with licensed mental health professionals. "Crying helps us release and move through emotions in order to process them and get them from the inside to the outside."
Just how good crying is for you depends on the people and society around you, though. A 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that people around the world who cried in front of others felt better when the people around them helped, as opposed to when they did not. That might seem obvious, but it has huge implications. In a society where toxic masculinity tells men that crying is weak and tells women and nonbinary folks that their tears are dramatic, it's scary for anyone to cry in front of others.
When there is so much shame around crying (for people of any gender), it can be hard to think of sobbing as beneficial. The next time you need a session of sadness, remind yourself of these five ways that crying helps your body, and just... let it go.
1. Crying Can Improve Your Mood
This one seems counterintuitive, but rest assured that crying can actually improve your mood. In a 2015 study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, participants were shown sad movies (don't worry, they volunteered). Researchers monitored who cried in response to the films and who didn't. Those who shed tears initially felt worse, while those who had more stoic or neutral reactions felt about the same. However, 90 minutes after the film ended, researchers checked back in and those who cried during the film felt better than they did before the movie even started. Those who had stoic reactions still had the same level of happiness they'd had throughout the experience.
That's not to say there's anything wrong with you for being able to get through something like Titanic without sobbing (even if it's in rage because Jack definitely could have fit on that door). Everyone reacts differently to different things, and that's OK. Just know that if you do want to cry, it may well make you feel better.
2. Crying Helps Relieve Stress
A good sob might certainly feel stressful in the moment, but overall, crying also aids physical stress relief. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Emotion, weeping has a whole host of bodily benefits, including lowering your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
In this case, getting it out is much better than keeping it in. If you don't transfer these feelings from their internal bottle to the external world, Daino says, there may be physical and emotional consequences. Everything from headaches and stomachaches to overwhelming irritability and stress can result from concealing, not feeling.
3. Crying Can Help You Connect With Others
"Sometimes, because of our cultural upbringing, we have been given the message that we should not cry, not be so emotional," says clinical psychologist Dr. Lynne Matte, Ph.D., who works with Alma, a community for mental health professionals. However, Dr. Matte tells Bustle that forcing yourself not to cry can create barriers within yourself that prevent you from understanding your own emotions and from building supportive relationships with others. "One of the consequences of holding it in is denying that something is wrong. Putting a brave face on can be detrimental in that it leads to built-up resentment and frustration that can lead to anger."
On the flip side, allowing yourself to turn on the eye fountains can help you build social connections that humans need to survive. "By holding back and denying our feelings we are therefore not able communicate effectively," Dr. Matte says. It's a very vulnerable experience to be sure, but she tells Bustle that crying is essentially a form of communication and asking for help and support. Sure enough, people who let themselves cry in front of others are more likely to intimately connect with people, experience empathy, and receive emotional help, according to a 2018 study published in the journal CNS Spectrums. So, science says, there is no shame in sharing your pain through your tears — sometimes all you need is a good hug.
4. Crying Can Clue You Into Your Own Emotions
You know that sudden feeling where your chest gets tight, there's a lump in your throat, and all of a sudden you're weeping out of nowhere? The truth is, it's probably not out of nowhere. Crying is a signal you need to address something.
"A good cry allows for the emotional release of feelings that you may have difficulty putting into words," Daino tells Bustle. "Once you have released the feelings through a good cry, you may notice that you can think more clearly about what you have experienced emotionally, giving yourself an opportunity to reflect and put those experiences into words while beginning to make sense of what has happened." If you find yourself breaking into tears over something that normally wouldn't upset you (like Trader Joe's having no ripe avocados, for instance), it might be time to sit down with yourself and see what's really on your mind.
5. Crying Can Lower Your Heart Rate
According to the same 2019 Emotion study cited above, the physical act of crying can calm your entire body down by helping lower your heart rate. This might seem counterintuitive, especially if you're rage-sobbing, which you might associate with a pounding heart. If you find yourself weeping through your anger, or realize that it is turning into sadness or grief, you don't have to push it away — Dr. Matte says that going through the waterworks process can ultimately help bring your body back to equilibrium. It's important, for both your body and your mind, to work through the spectrum of emotions, whatever they end up being.
Sharman, L.S. (2019) The relationship of gender roles and beliefs to crying in an international sample. Frontiers in Psychology, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31649598/?from_term=crying+gender&from_pos=1.
Gračanin, A. (2015) Why crying does and sometimes does not seem to alleviate mood: a quasi-experimental study. Motivation and Emotion, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-015-9507-9.
Hesdorffer, D.C. (2018) Social and psychological consequences of not crying: Possible associations with psychopathology and therapeutic relevance. CNS Spectrum, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28831948/?from_term=crying+gender&from_pos=10.
Sharman, L.S. (2019) Using Crying to Cope: Physiological Responses to Stress Following Tears of Sadness. Emotion, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31282699/?from_term=crying+mood&from_filter=ds1.y_5&from_pos=5.
Jill E. Daino, LCSW, BC-TMH, New York-based Talkspace therapist
Dr. Lynne Matte, Ph.D., clinical psychologist with Alma
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