I recently found myself sitting in a movie theatre bawling my eyes out (A Star Is Born – it hurt so good!) I hadn’t come prepared and ultimately used my sweater to wipe those tears away, sobbing all the while.
And when I went home I felt AWESOME! That beautiful cry lifted my spirits. Like a cathartic emotional palate cleanser.
Turns out that’s actually pretty normal! Crying can make you feel better. Our bodies are pretty brilliant and when they want us to cry they have a reason. We often fight really hard against that urge. But that might not be our best course of action.
So in defense of tears (and in joyful violation of social stigma), let’s talk about 5 surprising health benefits of crying and why, sometimes, letting ourselves cry is the best form of self-care.
Get your Kleenex out, grab your coziest blanket and let’s get emotional baby!
Crying is Normal
I have a confession. That movie crying experience I described above? That’s not at all weird for me.
I’m a crier. I fully admit to it and I refuse to feel embarrassed.
I’m by no means saying that I cry constantly. But pull on the right heart strings (looking at you Lady Gaga) and you will definitely get some waterworks.
I’ve also been known to cry for the joyous moments in life. And I even cry when I’m really mad.
There have been times where I’ve felt like this was a weakness. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. It’s who I am. But I’ve come to realized that that isn’t a negative quality at all. I love and appreciate that I am so self-aware and willing to be vulnerable. It’s beautiful.
I cry. And the fact of the matter is that you probably cry too. It’s normal! And it’s healthy. In fact, suppressing emotions have some pretty harmful effects on your health (we’ll talk more on that in a minute). So, truly, crying if you need to is in your best interest.
Does that mean that you have to be like me and wear your heart on your sleeve? No! We’re all different and that’s fantastic! But I do think that we all need to be kinder and gentler towards ourselves. And allowing ourselves to cry if we need to, without judgement or negative self-talk, is a huge part of that.
Why Is It Healthy to Cry?
I know that a healthy lifestyle website encouraging you to cry might sound a little backwards. Especially when the usual message out there is that you should strive to be happy and create a positive outlook. But hear me out…
Sometimes allowing ourselves to experience a good cry is the best form of self-love!
Don’t get me wrong, a positive outlook is truly wonderful. And a general sense of optimism can even help you avoid and/or manage illnesses like heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and depression.
But denying yourself the right to experience negative emotions isn’t good for you. They have a role to play in a healthy lifestyle too.
Sounds a little bonkers? Check this out:
Suppressing emotions can have a serious impact on your well-being! Pushing back those negative feelings instead of working through them potentially increases your risk of illnesses like heart disease and even cancer. No thank you, right? (source)
In order to truly create a happy, healthy lifestyle we need to work through negative emotions too.
Never-ending happiness is kind of impossible. There’s something to be said about emotional balance. All of our feelings serve a purpose, including the negative ones. And they are definitely going to pop up time and again. Ignoring your feelings or denying yourself the right to work through them doesn’t do you any good in the long run.
Which means that acknowledging bad feelings as they come, even if that means that we need to have a good cry, is so incredibly important! And ultimately helps us feel better. Taking us back to happy town!
Whenever I’m sad my mom always reminds me that things will be ok again by saying: “This too shall pass.” It’s uplifting to know that difficult things will pass a heck of a lot quicker when we acknowledge them, allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel and work through it. It’s one of the awesome benefits of crying.
Now you may be wondering: What about the stigma? I’ve got street-cred Sara! I can’t just start blubbering like a baby.
And all I can say is screw the societal stigma!
Crying is not a sign of weakness. Regardless of your gender identity. Crying is human! And being vulnerable takes courage. Not to mention, it also takes a lot of strength and self-awareness to be honest about your emotions and cry them out.
It’s good to cry. It’s healthy to cry. And, when you need to, you have the right to let those tears out.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, has spent over 20 years studying the health benefits of crying. And in his opinion:
“Crying is not only a human response to sorrow and frustration, it’s a healthy one.”
So let’s work on reducing that stigma and allowing ourselves to experience the benefits of crying when we need it.
However, with all that being said, the stigma does still exist. And you need and deserve to feel like you are in a safe space to express your emotions.
If being vulnerable is not presently ideal, it’s ok to wait.
When we cry and we face criticism and/or negative responses we often end up more stressed than we were before. So don’t be afraid to make sure that you’re with supportive people who love you or in a place where you feel comfortable before you let it out. (source)
5 Wonderful Health Benefits of Crying
Before we dive into the benefits of crying, let’s take a look at our tears. Because, shockingly, not every tear is created equal. (source)
In fact, we have 3 types of tears:
- Basal Tears – a constantly secreted, protein rich tear with antibacterial properties that protect your eyes and keep them moist.
- Reflex Tears – released when something irritates your eyes (including those pesky onions!) These tears are meant to remove those irritants and further protect your eyes when basal tears aren’t enough.
- Emotional tears – produced in response to emotional triggers. Emotional tears have greater levels of stress hormones than reflex or basal tears.
Every type of tear serves a special purpose. Which means that we naturally tear up for different reasons. Your body knows what it’s doing, whether it’s releasing antibacterial basal tears, flushing out irritants or helping you let those stress hormones out!
So trust that beautiful body of yours. It’s on your side.
Here are the benefits of crying emotional tears:
1. Crying is a Wonderful Way to Self-Soothe
Allowing ourselves to cry when we need to, without self-judgement or criticism, is one way that we can soothe ourselves. This lovely moment of self-care allows us to work through stress and re-balance our emotions.
Even cooler, crying has some scientifically proven mood enhancing effects! A good cry may activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps you feel better. (source)
Lauren Bylsma, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shares how this works:
“It seems that crying begins just after the peak of physiological arousal as sympathetic activity starts to decrease and parasympathetic activity increases, helping to bring the body back to homeostasis.” (source)
Basically you’re leaving a state of fight or flight and entering a state of calm (known as rest and digest).
When our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it slows and calms the heart, eases stress and reduces inflammation, entering that sweet, sweet rest and digest state. It’s basically the opposite of the fight of flight response (which is ruled by the PNS’ opposite, the sympathetic nervous system). (source)
Which means that once we’re done with crying we’ve already started to put in the time we need to work through this and feel better.
I know we often judge ourselves for showing emotion. But one of the serious benefits of crying is that it can be a form of moving forward. And it’s so important that we aim to be kind and patient with ourselves while we work things out.
Need more time to self-soothe? Here’s a printable self-care planner that can help you plan for some much deserved you time.
2. Crying May Boost Your Mood and Reduce Stress
When you cry you get a beautiful increase in oxytocin and endorphins that ultimately boost your mood. Endorphins are called ‘feel good’ chemicals for a simple reason – they often leave you feeling damn good. Thank you tears! (source)
Super bonus, that oxytocin also helps to dull emotional and physical pain. That’s one amazing super power!
But it gets cooler!
Remember how I said that emotional tears contain stress hormones? Well, researchers think that this lowers the level of stress hormones in your body and ultimately reduces stress. This is especially true when we’re comforted by a loved one. (source)
3. Crying Might Help You Sleep Better
I don’t know about you, but some of the best and more restful sleeps of my life have been after a good cry!
And while more research is needed, we do know that crying helps babies sleep better. We just haven’t gotten to checking in to see if the same benefits extend to us grown ups. (source)
But hey, we already know that one of the benefits of crying is that it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and increase in oxytocin and endorphins. All of this helps us feel calmer, boosts our mood and relieves pain. It’s not too big of a stretch to hypothesize that that could make for a better night sleep for adults.
4. Crying Helps Us Get the Support We Need
Not only is crying an awesome way to self-soothe, it can also help us to connect with others and get help when we need it.
When we cry we’re exhibiting what is known as “attachment behaviour”. It’s a literal cry for help that can often lead to care and comfort from those closes to us. (source)
And before you think that crying will turn you into a pariah, take a look at this:
Robert R. Provine, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, conducted a study on our reaction to crying faces vs. non-crying faces. He found that tears work as a form of communication. And his study showed that people want to provide help and support when they see someone crying. (source)
Plus, seeking support is a valuable form of stress relief.
Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist, highly recommends that we connect with others when we’re feeling stressed:
“My most effective stress relief comes from speaking with friends, but only the ones I know have my best interests at heart. They are great listeners, supportive, and almost always come up with strategies to cope with the stressor or, at the least, put it in perspective for me. If nothing else, they point me in a better, less stressful direction.” (source)
We all need to feel loved, cared for, reassured and part of a community. Our relationships matter and make us feel valued and like we belong. We feel it when we talk or cry with our friends or family and when someone shows us empathy. It’s the magic of a good support system!
5. Crying Forges Stronger Social Bonds
When we cry in front of someone we are trusting them enough to be vulnerable and connecting with them in a new way. Forging stronger bonds with the people we love is one of the beautiful benefits of crying!
Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist, MD and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, totally agrees:
“With supportive people, it [crying] can create an increased feeling of bonding and connection. You trust the person enough to cry around them.” (source)
When To Get Help
While there are many awesome health benefits of crying, it can also sometimes be a sign that you might need some extra help.
Talk to your doctor if you:
- Cry very frequently
- Cry often for no apparent reason
- Feel that crying is affecting your day to day life
- Want to check in with them about your mental health
Sometimes crying can be a sign of depression or anxiety. Or even other health issues like Graves Disease, which has a huge affect on your mental well-being (this girl was pretty anxious, irritable and emotional during her first major flare up and both of her relapses!)
You deserve to feel well! And your mental health matters just as much as your physical health.
Your lovely brain is a beautiful organ after all, no different that your gorgeous heart or amazing kidneys! And like the rest of your body, sometimes it may need some outside health care.
If you’ve moved past the health benefits of an occasional cry and are instead experiencing something stressful and irregular, talking to your doctor and/or therapist about it is a beautiful form of a self-love. You deserve answers and options and they are there to help you with that!
Why Talk to a Therapist
Therapists can be an amazing help when you’re working through something difficult. And it’s nothing to be embarrassed by (I’ve been through therapy yo!)
Therapists create a safe space free from judgement. Everything is confidential. And the relationship is unique to your needs.
As Philip J. Rosenbaum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and is the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Haverford College, puts it:
“Therapists engage with their clients’ lives without becoming a daily part of it. Well-defined boundaries allow therapists the perspective from which to observe behaviors that friends who are involved in a client’s life may be too close to see.” (source)
Therapy can be so useful and isn’t something to be afraid of or embarrassed by. When you sit down with a professional, they’re neutral. They have absolutely no agenda in your life, will not judge and can be completely unbiased.
Almost everyone experiences mental health related difficulties in their life (this lady included). And when that happens we can all benefit from therapy.
And hey, they can provide that beautiful social support when you need to cry it out too. It’s truly all win!
If you’re more comfortable speaking with a counselor online, there are awesome options available!
BetterHelp.com provides access to affordable, private online counseling and will connect you with a licensed, trained, experienced, accredited psychiatrist or therapists that is the right fit for you. A little extra support like this can help to make all the difference when you need a hand. Check them out and get started today.
Sometimes you might have to get a good cry on! But now you know that acknowledging your emotions and working through them is super good for you. And that there are some pretty awesome benefits of crying.
When you cry you’re:
- Boosting Your Mood
- Reducing Stress and Emotional Pain
- Lowering Physical Pain
- Sleeping Better
- Getting Support
- Forging stronger social bonds
That’s a whole lot of goodness isn’t it?
If crying starts to negatively affect your day to day life or becomes a concern please don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or counselor about it and develop a plan. It’s ok not to be ok. And it’s totally ok to get help! In fact, it’s pretty damn amazing <3.
Which of these health benefits of crying surprised you the most? Are you a crier too? How do you like to relieve stress? Share your thoughts and feels in the comments below.
Health and love,
Thought of the day: Every emotion serves a purpose – there is nothing wrong with experiencing negative ones and working through them.
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