If you've ever attempted to hold back tears, then you know that trying to stop yourself from crying can be more difficult than letting the tears flow. While there can be an unnecessary stigma around crying, new research found that crying is actually really good for your health. A study published in the journal Emotion found that crying facilitates coping and recovery skills during times of stress. This means that the less you hold back your tears, the better you're going to feel both physically and emotionally.
During the study, participants were assigned to watch either sad videos to elicit emotion or neutral videos for 17 minutes before undergoing a stress test. Those exposed to the sad videos designed to prompt tears maintained stable breathing rates during the stress test. What's more, their heart rates actually decelerated immediately before crying and never rose above normal levels during the stressful task. On the other hand, the non-criers experienced increased respiration and heart rates while undergoing the stress test.
"These results suggest that crying may assist in generally maintaining biological homeostasis, perhaps consciously through self-soothing via purposeful breathing and unconsciously through regulation of heart rate," the study reported. This is the physiological reason you feel better after having yourself a good old-fashioned ugly cry.
Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, explained on her website that there are three different kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Reflex tears clear irritants from your eyes. Continuous tears keep your eyes lubricated. Emotional tears help your body rid itself of stress hormones and promote healing. The health benefits of emotional tears are why Dr. Orloff is a big proponent of breaking the stigma around crying.
"The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self awareness to cry," she said. "Try to let go of outmoded, untrue, conceptions about crying. It is good to cry. It is healthy to cry. This helps to emotionally clear sadness and stress."
Yep, crying actually calms you down. The University of Pennsylvania Penn School of Medicine noted on its website that turning on the tears helps the body rid itself of toxins and hormones that contribute to elevated stress levels. This in turn helps lower your blood pressure.
I cry all of the damn time. However, allowing someone to see me cry fills me with shame. In my family, crying is a big no-no. Growing up, my brothers and I were taunted and called "big babies" whenever we would cry. So we all learned not to — at least not where anyone could see us.
Though it was communicated to everyone in my family that crying was looked down upon, men and boys receive this message more often than women and girls. This is can be detrimental to mental health because research suggests that suppressing emotions can lead to increased rates of depression, poor coping skills, and suicide.
I'm saying this as much for myself as I am for you. There is zero shame in crying. Crying is healthy. Crying is a natural part of being human. So if you're feeling sad/angry/stressed, go have yourself a good cry. It's pretty much guaranteed to make you feel better.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.