Just like the rain pouring down is healthy for the grass outside, letting the tears pour down your face and having a good cry is healthy for people of all ages. Crying is the kind of emotional release that we all need sometimes, and it’s incredible how good you can feel after having a good cry.
One of the main reasons why having a good cry is beneficial for your health is because crying releases oxytocin and endorphins in the body. These are two of the most important ‘feel good hormones’ that improve our mood, calm us down, and reduce physical and emotional pain. That’s right, it’s not just sex or cuddles that can release oxytocin – crying does this for us as well.
Dr. Judith Orloff puts it wisely by saying, “Crying is a way to purge pent up emotions so they don’t lodge in the body.” Sometimes we just need a good purge. Dr. Orloff goes on to say, “For both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.”
Crying is important because it helps balance out our emotions. You’ll be less irritable, less angry, and less afraid if you balance out your emotions by crying. A good cry can also help you let go and make room for new emotional experiences. Charmayne Kilcup, PhD, says, “Crying is a cathartic process that helps emotions move through the body rather than getting stuck. When emotions can move through the body, we experience less stress, anxiety, and other health issues.”
Repressive coping is the psychological term for those who don’t release their emotions and instead keep everything bottled up inside. Repressive coping has been linked to various health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, a less resilient immune system, anxiety disorders and depression. (Crying is how you express grief, but if you don’t express your grief, it can turn into depression.)
This is why people all over the world are recognizing the health benefits of crying. The Japanese, for example, are such firm believers in the health benefits of crying that some cities in Japan have “crying clubs” called rui-katsu, also known as ‘tears therapy’. These crying clubs are a place for tear-seekers to come together to have a good cry, and members of these clubs will watch tear-jerker videos and listen to emotional music together.
Although it’s true that crying helps protect your eyes, cleanses the eyes and helps clean your nose, these types of health benefits aren’t the focus today. In this article, we’ll focus on the health benefits of emotional tears, and it’s the mental health benefits that are most significant.
1. Crying Helps Regulate Your Nervous System
When our nervous system is dysregulated, we can feel agitated, anxious, and afraid. Crying can help regulate your nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Clinical psychologist Hüdanur Akkuzu says, “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and provides a feeling of relaxation, relieves tension in the body, lowers blood pressure, and helps return the heart rate to normal.”
Crying is a self-soothing activity that helps you self regulate your nervous system so that you can feel more regulated and calm.
2. Crying Releases Oxytocin and Endorphins, While Lowering Cortisol
Oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. The release of oxytocin can alter your mood in a very positive way, lowering your stress and anxiety. You may have known that sex can release oxytocin, but it’s less commonly known that crying releases oxytocin.
Oxytocin and endorphins are released when we cry.
Amber Weiss, the founder of a psychotherapy private practice in New York City called Transformative Mindset says, “Crying releases endorphins, also known as one of the ‘happy hormones.’ When you cry, you allow your body to take a step towards healing. When you bottle up your emotions, tension and stress build up in your body. This can cause other physical symptoms to appear, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, heart palpitations, neck and shoulder pain, and headaches.” Crying also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which is one of the reasons you could feel a lot less stressed after you cry.
3. A Good Cry Helps Return the Body to Homeostasis
Homeostasis is the condition of optimal functioning, and your body is likely to return to homeostasis after a good cry. Life coach Alexandra Weiss says, “Crying helps to complete the stress cycle. Chronic stress can cause inflammation when you don’t complete the stress cycle, which is why it’s so imperative to focus on addressing stress head-on with a good, constructive cry. We feel a release when we cry because our bodies are returning to homeostasis. A good cry releases the body from sending cortisol and hormones, getting back to a comfortable, normal state. Beyond the science, at the end of the day, a good cry just feels really good. That’s why people sometimes crave a ‘tear-jerker’ movie; as it’s a release.”
4. Crying is a Very Healthy Way to Release Emotions
It’s crucial to release your emotions rather than suppress or avoid them. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to release emotions such as anger, fear and sadness. Crying is one of the healthiest ways to release and express emotion. Dr. Gertrude Lyons, Director of Family Programs at The Wright Foundation explains how suppressing your emotions can be harmful to your health, while releasing your emotions in a healthy way (such as by crying) is beneficial to your health. Dr. Lyons says, “Humans are emotional beings. Suppressing any of our five core emotions (fear, hurt, anger, sadness and pain) has been scientifically proven to have a negative impact on our health and mental state.”
Dr. Lyons uses a plumbing analogy to explain the health benefits of crying in more detail. She explains, “When your pipes get clogged or backed up, it puts stress on the entire plumbing system, and pipes can leak or burst. If you don’t want to ‘burst’ one day, don’t suppress your emotions or let them bottle up inside of you.”
5. Cry it Out to Improve Brain Function
A good cry can help you purge dysregulating emotions so that you have more capacity to address problems using your brain’s executive functioning. Dr. Lyons says, “A good cry is beneficial for your brain function, as crying regulates your nervous system. After a good cry, your nervous system is back in balance, allowing you to respond to problems from your prefrontal cortex, which is your executive functioning.”
6. Crying is a Natural Painkiller
We know that crying releases oxytocin and endorphins. It’s common knowledge that endorphins are natural painkillers. Similarly, the release of oxytocin can increase our pain tolerance.
The release of oxytocin and endorphins aren’t the only reason why crying helps relieve pain. Crying also relieves tension in the body, while holding emotions inside can cause tension headaches, back and shoulder pain, and tension in the neck.
7. Sobbing Can Help You Let Go
When you’re crying about something, that’s a good sign that you’ve accepted the outcome. Acceptance is the final stage of grief and is crucial for letting go and moving on. Sobbing it out until there are no tears left to cry can help you let go of what’s hurting you, allowing you to move towards something better. You may need to have multiple sob-fests before you’re ready to fully let go, but the act of crying will certainly help you do this. In order to move on, you have to feel your feelings, sit in the hurt, and cry it out. You might struggle to let go or move on if you avoid your feelings or refuse to cry.
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