Is Crying Healthy?
When emotions overtake you, crying can be a healthy emotional release. But not all environments are conducive to alleviating sadness or expressing relief.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
The notion that big boys or big girls don't cry is a persistent idea fed by popular sayings, but psychologists and researchers say that it's just not so. Shedding tears can be a huge and very healthy emotional release, particularly if you are experiencing deep pain, sadness, anger, or stress.
One study analyzed 140 years of popular articles about crying and found that more than 9 in 10 found tears to be a good way to release pent-up feelings. An international sample of men and women from 30 countries found that most reported feeling relief after a good cry. And about 70 percent of therapists say they believe crying is good for their patients.
Crying as Catharsis
The main benefit of crying is catharsis, or a purging or purification of your feelings through emotional release. When you cry, you can let go of the tension and sadness and other emotions that have been causing you pain. In many ways, crying serves as a safety valve that allows you to blow off emotions that have built up too much pressure inside you.
It's been difficult for researchers to figure out how this works. When tears are induced in a laboratory setting — for example, having subjects watch a sad movie — more often than not the participants report that they feel worse rather than better.
Despite this, people consistently report that a good cry makes them feel better. One recent study reviewing more than 3,000 detailed reports of recent crying episodes found that most people reported an improvement in their mood afterward. Another study of 196 Dutch women found that nearly 9 in 10 said they felt better after
Another benefit of crying is that it can bring people closer. An Israeli researcher studying the evolutionary aspects of crying has speculated that shedding tears communicates vulnerability to others, since the tears blur your vision and leaves you defenseless. A person who cares for you while you are in this weakened state can grow closer to you, and the bond between the two of you may grow stronger.
Have a Healthy Cry
Research has found that for crying to improve emotional health, certain conditions need to be met:
* You should have a shoulder to cry on. People who receive social support while crying report more cathartic release than people who cry alone. Find a friend or loved one you trust.
* You should cry after you've solved the problem. People feel better when they cry about a problem that's already been resolved. If you cry before you've dealt with the situation that's making you feel like crying, you are likely to receive no benefit or actually make yourself feel worse rather than better.
* You need to make sure you're crying in an appropriate place. People who experience shame or embarrassment while they cry are less likely to report an improvement of their mood. If you're going to feel bad about crying in a public place or in front of certain people, you need to hold back your tears and go somewhere else.
* Crying likely won't help you if you are living with a mood disorder. People who live with clinical depression or anxiety disorders are less likely to feel better after they have a good cry. If you find yourself feeling worse after crying, you should see a doctor or therapist to see if you have a mood disorder.
But if you can't stop the tears from falling, go ahead and let it all out — the odds are you'll feel better afterward.