Updated: Aug 19
Have you ever wondered why crying can feel so good? It’s something we usually do when we’re upset so…why do we kinda-sorta love it? There are many reasons that I discuss in session, which I would love to share in greater depth as follows. My goal is to increase your sense of control and empowerment the next time you shed a tear. You should never feel shame or be afraid to cry.
Let’s learn about all the benefits of crying together…
HORMONAL CHANGES DUE TO EMOTIONAL TEARS
First of all, did you know that there are different types of tears? Some tears are meant to clean out your eyes; others are just there to keep them from drying out. Emotional tears are usually shed as a result of an emotional rise that you have experienced. When emotional tears are shed there are actual traces of stress hormones in those tears. The levels found are significantly higher than in non-emotional tears. When we cry emotional tears, our body releases manganese and cortisol which elevates your mood. In a way, the tears are removing stressful hormones from your body. Oxytocin and endorphins can also be found in your ‘emotional tears.’ Oxytocin is called the “love hormone;” essentially what our body creates when we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, particularly in response to another human or pet. Endorphins make you feel euphoric and actually reduce pain; you may experience this after a great workout or a good laugh. So by having an emotional cry, your body is releasing the hormones that make you feel bad and increasing the hormones that make you feel good. Fascinating!
REGULATE NERVOUS SYSTEM We don’t typically cry when we’re in the height of a stressful situation. Think about it. If you were being chased by a bear, you probably wouldn’t stop and cry. Your fight or flight response would kick in and you would fight that bear or flee the situation (hopefully the latter…carefully, safely, successfully). It wouldn’t be until later that your nerves may settle back down and allow you to start crying. Your body is telling you that you are now safe and can release those high-level stress hormones that were so important to help get you out of the dangerous situation. These dangerous situations can be true danger such as a bear chasing you or perceived danger such as speaking in front of a large crowd. Oh hello there, panic attacks, we’ll touch on you in a future blog post. Crying is your body’s attempt at returning to its normal state by regulating your nervous system. It releases those stress hormones, activates the happy hormones, and gives you a physical cue that you are now safe and can release the stress and return to your normal self.
Crying is a pretty vulnerable activity. Some people cry when they’re alone, while others cry in certain company.
Crying may provide a visual cue to others around you that you could benefit from some comforting or support. Just like when you were a baby and cried to signify that you needed help from those around you, our tears as adults can do the same. People are more inclined to approach and support a person who is crying than a person who is not. So when you don’t have the words to explain what is wrong, but your eyes start welling up, perhaps it’s your body’s way of letting you – and others – know that you need support.
When people cry together or support someone who is crying, a connection is formed. The person comforting feels good about helping, and the person being helped feels supported, cared for, and safe. This leads them to be more confident in verbalizing their need for help in the future.
Crying during a sad movie may not provide as intense of a cathartic release as one might experience after a more individual emotional situation. However, crying in a group can create a connection among a large group of people due to a shared experience.
CRYING AND SLEEP
Did you ever wonder why people are so much more inclined to cry themselves to sleep at night? With the stress of the day winding down, and finally having the time/safety/privacy to cry certainly play into it, it turns out that the release of those stress hormones actually helps you to sleep better! As an added bonus, it strengthens your immune system. It make sense, since being in higher stress situations is more likely to lower our immune system, as our body redirects its energy to producing adrenaline in order to help us get through the stress.
Crying can provide a different experience for different people. Some people prefer to cry alone. Some people prefer to cry with others. Some cry during sad movies, and some do not. As we all know, babies and young children cry more often than adults. Somewhere along the way we are told to toughen up, or that “big boys don’t cry.” We now know that crying is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of emotional processing and regulation of our nervous system. It’s important not to judge others for how their emotional tears present. We never know what may be going on for someone that has just been triggered. I encourage you all to be kind to each other, offer help when those around you are struggling, and don’t be afraid to cry it out. And now, if you’re ever asked “Why do we cry?”, you can share this helpful post in order to educate others and help them feel more comfortable with their tears.