Benefits of crying

Go ahead and cry, it’s good for you.

Close up of a woman's face who is crying.

When was the last time you had a good cry? It is a natural human reaction to many emotions, beyond sadness. We cry in reaction to stress, frustration, grief and yes, even joy. Scientists have studied the content of our tears and have categorized them into three different types:

  1. Basal – or the protein/antibacterial fluid that gets released when you blink
  2. Reflex – the fluid that gets released in response to irritants like smoke
  3. Emotional – this one in particular contains higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline, both stress hormones

Many people don’t like to cry for a variety of reasons. One is that people believe themselves to be ugly criers. They complain that their faces swell and turn shades of red, along with their eyes. It may seem to take forever to recover from crying also. This is a normal, physical reaction to crying. Additionally, people don’t like to cry because crying often means anger, and in the moment, individuals don’t want to come across as a weak person and not a warrior prince or princess they try to portray. The final reason people don’t like to cry is that it seems like literal flood gates open. Tears are not something that are easily turned on or off.

According to Marleen Becht, Department of Clinical Health Psychology at Tilburg University, Netherlands (2002) women cry more often to men, an average of 3.5 times per month for women as compared to 1.9 times per month for men. Considering our societies cultural norms, men are not encouraged or supported to cry. That is just a crying shame.

A Crying Proneness Scale (Denckla, 2013) helps mental health professionals measure how often people cry and looks at contributing triggers. Frequent crying may be a sign of something serious such as depression or other mental health issues. If a person is experiencing frequent crying and may be showing other signs of depression, they should talk to their doctor. 

All humans can benefit from crying. Over the years, studies have shown that crying can help relieve stress and improve your mood. Tears help your eyes fight bacteria and irritants. In addition, tears trigger empathy and compassion in others and softens anger (Trimble 2013).

Have you ever laughed so hard that you cried? That is because the emotional and physical responses are quite similar. We cry in response to intense emotions of sadness, joy and laughter. Surprise, tear content is the same! Cortisol and adrenaline are released which help ease stress.

Michigan State University Extension has many classes that help people develop healthy social and emotional skills to build resiliency. Learning to express emotions in a healthy way, including crying, can benefit you and the people around you. If you are curious, please consider signing up for one of our many programs by visiting our website. There you will find descriptions of programs such as RELAX: Alternatives to Anger, Stress Less with Mindfulness and Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

So, the next time you find yourself crying, think of it as a beneficial and healthy activity!

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