Crying is a natural response humans have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, and frustration. In the United States, women cry an average of 3.5 times per month, and men average around 1.9 times a month.
But does crying have any health benefits? We all cried when we were babies. But now that we’re adults, many of us often try to hold back our tears in the belief that crying – particularly at work or in public – is seen as a sign of weakness or as something to be ashamed of.
But is it? Or is the act of shedding tears healthy? Interestingly, humans are the only animals to cry tears.
Humans produce three types of tears:
o Basal: The tear ducts constantly secrete basal tears, which are a protein-rich antibacterial liquid that help to keep the eyes moist every time a person blinks.
o Reflex: These are tears triggered by irritants such as wind, smoke, or onions. They are released to flush out these irritants and protect the eye.
o Emotional: Humans shed tears in response to a range of emotions. These tears contain a higher level of stress hormones than other types of tears.
Health benefits of crying
Having a good cry can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. Some psychologists even suggest that we may be doing ourselves a disservice by not tearing up regularly.
“Crying activates the body in a healthy way,” says Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D. of UCLA. “Letting down one’s guard and defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing. The same thing happens when you watch a movie, and it touches you, and you cry… That process of opening into yourself… it’s like a lock and key.”
o Has a soothing effect
Self-soothing is when people:
· Regulate their own emotions
· Calm themselves
· Reduce their distress
o Gets support from others
As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them. As this 2016 study trusted Source explains, crying is primarily an attachment behavior, as it rallies support from the people around us. This is known as an interpersonal or social benefit.
o Helps to relieve pain
Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote well-being.
o Enhances mood
Crying may help lift people’s spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as “feel good” chemicals.
o Releases toxins and relieves stress
When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain several stress hormones and chemicals. Researchers believe that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which could, in turn, reduce stress. More research is needed in this area to confirm this.
o Aids sleep
A small study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be researched. However, it follows that the calming, mood-enhancing, and pain-relieving effects of crying above may help a person fall asleep more easily.
o Fights bacteria
Crying helps kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a lysozyme fluid. A 2011 Source found that lysozyme had such powerful antimicrobial properties that it could even help to reduce risks presented by bioterror agents, such as anthrax.
o Enhancing vision
Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out.
When to see a doctor
While a cry now and again is a healthy way of releasing built-up emotions, you should consult your GP if your crying:
o Is frequent and uncontrollable.
o Often occurs for no apparent reason.
o Interferes with your ability to perform everyday tasks.
o Is accompanied by other physical, emotional, or psychological symptoms.