Crying is a funny thing. In a completely unfunny way. It’s primarily seen as a sign of sadness; and therefore bad. Or, perhaps, as a sign of weakness? How many of us have struggled not to cry when we’ve fallen over and hurt ourselves? Even as adults? Or maybe especially as adults?
Crying is often viewed as the province of children. A behaviour we should grow out of as we mature. But even children are discouraged, often, from their tears. It’s a behaviour we try to minimize; even in babies. There is a certain stigma around crying. Whether it’s fear of being called a ‘cry baby’ as a child or teenage? Or worrying that as an adult it’s a sign that you can’t cope or that you’re too sensitive? But why does this stigma persist?
Times We Cry
Crying is one of the first things we do in life. As babies, a newborn is expected to cry for a few hours a day. Even when they end the newborn phase, many babies have a witching hour where they may cry. And before babies develop language, it’s their main form of communication. And, if we think about it, as we get older that doesn’t really change. Yes, we develop the ability to use our words to say how we feel. But what happens when words aren’t enough? Our tears communicate our pain, sadness or grief to those around us.
But we don’t only cry in negative or difficult situations. Whilst tears have become synonymous with pain; both physical and emotional. Tears can also be an expression of joy. Indeed, tears of joy is an expression for a reason. Perhaps it’s something you’ve experienced too? Ever been with friends or family and you’ve laughed until you’ve cried? When the laughter bubbles up inside of you, your sides hurt and tears flow. So, it’s not all bad.
Benefits of Crying
The Emotional Response
The benefits of crying, yes they do exist, are more than I ever imagined when I began researching the topic for this post. Whilst our eyes need tears to keep them lubricated. Emotional tears, those that manifest when we cry, contain stress hormones and toxins. Literally, the need to cry in difficult or stressful times, helps to detoxify our body. Thus, the urge to cry shouldn’t be ignored or controlled but rather encouraged. It’s a biological process our body undergoes for our emotional health.
The act of crying can also help us unwind and begin to relax. In theory, we should all take our cues from babies who sometimes need a few minutes of crying before bed. It helps them unwind from the day and any overstimulation. Likewise, the same is true for adults. Research has found that crying can stimulate our Parasympathetic Nervous System. A branch of our Autonomic Nervous System which helps us ‘rest and digest’ after a period of stress. After our fight, flight or freeze mechanism, part of our bodies stress response, has been triggered.
For a further understanding of how our stress response works read here.
Crying has further benefits when engaged with long-term. A ‘good long cry’ releases oxytocin; our love hormone. And releases endorphins which promote calm and relaxation. Both oxytocin and endorphins can help dull pain; whether physical or emotional. Which might explain why we primarily cry when we are in some form of pain. And why crying may provide us with a reprieve from the pain.
Lastly, crying can be incredibly cathartic. Perhaps you’ve experienced relief after a cry. The feeling of unloading a heavy emotion or finding some balance. This may work as crying gives your body time to process an emotional upheaval and recover from a scare or a shock.
The Social Response
Another reason crying might make us feel better is because it provokes a social response. Whether that’s managing pain, relaxing or processing emotions. Our tears are a sign of communication; signalling our distress to those around us. Hopefully, if we are lucky enough to have a support network of those who care, our tears will be a call to action. Rallying our nearest and dearest to provide an additional level of support when we need it most.
As we know, having the privilege of a group of people who care for us, can work wonders for our mental health. A support network can be integral to any form of health recovery. And communication and connection is an important act of self-care. Allowing us to feel less alone and isolated. Supported and sustained. And giving us a much need break from the stresses of daily life and perhaps negative thoughts or patterns of overthinking.
For more on providing support through empathy read here.
For more on improving your listening skills read here.
What are your thoughts on crying? Does it help or hinder? Let us know below!