As humans, we cry for numerous reasons. We cry in response to pain, fear, sadness, or joy. We might cry while watching a movie, over a sentimental greeting card, or cutting onions. Some of us cry when we are angry. Whatever the reason, sometimes our emotions bubble up and spill over, resulting in tears.
Crying is a common human action, and it can be triggered by many different emotions.
Researchers have found that crying can benefit both your body and your mind, and these benefits begin at birth with a baby’s first cry. Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of crying. It is not unusual to cry, and both sexes cry more than people may assume. In the United States, women cry an average of 3.5 times per month and men cry an average of 1.9 times a month.
Types of ‘crying’ or tears
Tears are not always an emotional reaction. Sometimes they are secreted to protect the eyes from external harm.
- 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. These are always present in the eyes.
- 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. They are made in large quantities.
- 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.
Tears contain water (with electrolytes), oil, and mucus. Salt ions in the electrolytes cause our tears to taste salty. Some scientists think there are proteins and hormones in emotional tears that aren’t found in basal or reflex tears. When we cry, these hormones help regulate our emotions.
Two areas in our brains help us cry. The brain’s limbic system is our emotional center. It sends messages to the lacrimal system to tell it when to produce tears. When these two systems work together, we cry. However, more research is still needed to pinpoint the exact brain processes which make us cry.
Are there any benefits of crying?
Crying and shedding tears might actually be good for a person. Discussed here are some benefits of crying.
- Keeps irritants out: Reflex tears are specially designed to help fight off things that could harm your eyes. When you shed these tears, you’re actively working to keep out gunk that could cause your eyes to feel uncomfortable or even injure them. Reflex tears are our natural eye wash, flushing out irritants. So, if you happen to get dust or an allergen in your eyeball, your tears flush it out.
- Helps with stress relief: Crying may be one of your best mechanisms to self-soothe. Researchers have found that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS helps your body rest and digest. The benefits aren’t immediate, however. It may take several minutes of shedding tears before you feel the soothing effects of crying. Shedding emotional tears can reduce your stress levels, making you feel good after. Emotional tears also have higher levels of stress hormones in them, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which means you literally get rid of stress as you cry.
- Helps avoid dry eyes: Dry eye is a health condition where your body doesn’t make enough tears or the right type of tears, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Your body can actively work to prevent dry eye by creating basal tears. Basal tears, she says, are “a natural shield” for your eyeballs.
- Promotes catharsis: Some research has mentioned that emotional crying soothes your intense emotional state and prevents that energy from turning into mental health problems. Crying is an expression of intense emotion and often the outward expression of an intense emotion as opposed to bottling it up inside does offer relief. This results in better mood.
- Dulls pain: Crying for long periods of time releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, otherwise known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals can help ease both physical and emotional pain. Once the endorphins are released, your body may go into somewhat of a numb stage. Oxytocin can give you a sense of calm or well-being. It’s another example of how crying is a self-soothing action.
- Helps cope with grief: Grieving is a process. It involves periods of sorrow, numbness, guilt, and anger. Crying is particularly important during periods of grieving. It may even help you process and accept the loss of a loved one. Crying is the expression of grief and experiencing grief allows you to process it more fully.
- Restores emotional balance: Crying doesn’t only happen in response to something sad. Sometimes you may cry when you are extremely happy, scared, or stressed. Researchers at Yale University believe crying in this way may help to restore emotional equilibrium. When you’re incredibly happy or scared about something and cry, it may be your body’s way to recover from experiencing such a strong emotion.
- Releases feel-good hormones and improves mood: Along with helping you ease pain, crying, specifically sobbing, may even lift your spirits. When you sob, you take in many quick breaths of cool air. Breathing in cooler air can help regulate and even lower the temperature of your brain. A cool brain is more pleasurable to your body and mind than a warm brain. As a result, your mood may improve after a sobbing episode. Endorphins are chemicals produced by your brain that improve your sense of well-being. Research has found that crying actually causes your brain to release endorphins, helping you feel better afterward.
- Helps others know you need help: If you’re feeling blue, crying is a way to let those around you know you are in need of support. This is known as an interpersonal benefit. From the time you were a baby, crying has been an attachment behavior. Its function is in many ways to obtain comfort and care from others. In other words, it helps to build up your social support network when the going gets tough.
- Helps babies breathe: A baby’s very first cry out of the womb is a very important cry. Babies receive their oxygen inside the womb through the umbilical cord. Once a baby is delivered, they must start breathing on their own. The first cry is what helps a baby’s lungs adapt to life in the outside world. Crying also helps babies clear out any extra fluid in the lungs, nose, and mouth. Crying has also been associated with better sleep in babies.
Can one cry too much?
Excess of anything is bad, including crying. There are many health benefits of crying as has been discussed above. However, sometimes frequent crying can be a sign of depression. People may be depressed if their crying:
- happens very frequently
- happens for no apparent reason
- starts to affect daily activities
- becomes uncontrollable
Other signs of depression include:
- having trouble concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
- feeling fatigued or without energy
- feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- feeling pessimistic or hopeless
- having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- feeling irritable or restless
- not enjoying things that were once pleasurable
- overeating or undereating
- unexplained aches, pains, or cramps
- digestive problems that do not improve with treatment
- persistent anxiety
- suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
If a person is experiencing symptoms of depression, or someone they know is, then they should talk to a doctor.
NOTE: The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.