The idea of bursting into tears in public is something that can often fill us with dread and shame. To some it can be seen as a sign of weakness and a lack of emotional resilience.
We may have experienced playground taunts of ‘crybaby’ or ‘wimp’ filling us with feelings of embarrassment and humiliation. Parents or main care givers may have told us not to cry leading us to internalise our pain.
But crying is something we all do, for a whole host of reasons. It’s an entirely healthy, natural response and it is scientifically proven to be good for us, mentally and physically.
So surely, it’s time to shake off those negative connotations and remember sometimes it can be helpful to cry.
So why do we cry?
Crying is an instinctive, often involuntary reaction to a variety of emotional and environmental factors.
There is such a thing as reflex tears; they are the ones that do a job, keeping the eye clear and flushing away dust and debris.
Emotional tears are the ones we are talking about here. The ones that come as a reaction to not just sadness or grief by also joy, happiness and relief.
Crying is a release valve for stress and mental anguish or overload and we do need to let emotions out at these times; suppressing them can lead to all sorts of problems, affecting our mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Just as reflex tears can wash away dust and dirt from our eyes, emotional tears can flush out stress hormones and toxins from our system.
What are the benefits of crying?
Crying is known to release oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins.
These are feel-good chemicals which will help ease physical and emotional pain, promoting a sense of calm and wellbeing.
This is why people report feeling better emotionally and physically after a good cry and why it can help you see problems in a new light and make decision-making and problem-solving easier.
Crying also gets rid of the power of the feeling that has caused the distress in the first place; it can reduce anxiety, detoxify the body and help you self-soothe.
It can also rally support, of course. Crying is a physical sign that you are suffering some way and, even if you are unable to articulate the problem, people will instinctively want to help and support you.
When does crying become a problem?
Crying for no reason, frequently or uncontrollably can sometimes be an indicator of another underlying issue.
There may be some unresolved matter that someone needs support with, such as a romantic relationship not going as they hoped, bereavement or a challenging relationship with their line manager.
There may also be a deeper-seated issue with the person’s mental or physical health and wellbeing.
People with clinical depression sometimes may not be able to cry at all – they are entirely shut off from their emotions.
In either of these cases, it’s helpful to seek support.
What happens if you don’t cry?
Keeping things in isn’t helpful, leading to issues with not only our mental health, but also physical.
This has been proved by research over the years and here are a few examples:
- Women who suppressed emotions during an experimental study were found to have increased blood pressure (Butler et al., 2003).
- In a study in which participants either expressed or suppressed emotions following a disgusting film, those who suppressed their feelings experienced relatively increased cardiovascular activation (Roberts, Levenson, & Gross, 2008).
- In a 12-year prospective study, emotional suppression was related to a significantly greater risk of both cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality (Chapman, Fiscella, Kawachi, Duberstein, & Muennig, 2013).
- In a comprehensive meta-analysis by Chervonsky and Hunt (2017), emotion suppression was related to poorer relationship quality, lower social satisfaction, lower social support, more negative first impressions, and lower social wellbeing.
- In a preliminary study, adult male participants who suppressed their emotions after watching a distressing film clip experienced greater distress and increased heart rate (Tull, Jakupcak, & Roemer, 2010).
The bottom line is, if you feel like crying, find a safe space if necessary and let it out. It’s likely you’ll feel better for it.
If you are affected by grief or loss and need support, get in touch and find out how I can help.