Sometimes a good cry is the best thing EVER!
"Unhappiness can't stick in a person's soul when it's slick with tears." ― Shannon Hale, Princess Academy
Ever feel so stressed out, so overwhelmed, or so mad at your partner (or at life) that you just wanted to cry?
Of course you have! We all have! But unfortunately, most of us don't let ourselves actually cry in those moments.
There's a good chance that no matter how horrible you're feeling, you probably don't often succumb to that lump in your throat. Instead you find yourself hoping the moment — and those uncomfortable feelings — just pass on their own. (Just focus on "positive thoughts" and happiness, right?)
Maybe tears are inappropriate for the situation. Maybe you feel self-conscious being openly vulnerable. Or worse, maybe you're not sure you really have time for a good cry. You possibly even worry that crying might leave you feeling worse!
Turns out, stifling tears is NOT a healthy strategy. Holding back tears actually hurts your mood rather than helping it.
Or so researchers from Croatia tell us based on their recent study. What they found is quite surprising! — First, that crying protects people from feelings of depression. But, also that 90 minutes after participants watched an emotional movie, they actually felt even better than they did before watching the film.
These new findings add to a great deal of other research that validate the healthful benefits of crying, despite our collective discomfort with it.
Letting your tears flow is one of the healthiest things you can do — and here's a break down of WHY:
1. Crying provides a powerful emotional release. Sometimes nothing else is quite as effective for moving through emotions as a good cry. A complicated physiological reaction, tears appear to act as an emotional overflow mechanism of sorts. Crying helps mobilize intense feelings, provide their cathartic release, and is one of our most efficient balancing tools.
2. Tears remove toxins. Like a good sweat, crying releases toxins that can build up in the body. Biochemist William Frey's research found that emotional tears have higher levels of stress hormones than tears shed by, say, slicing an onion. Like other exocrine secretions (like sweating, urinating, or even exhaling) tears allow the body to rid itself of excess stress-chemicals built up from emotional tension.
3. Tears bolster our immune system. Just as some forms of stress boost immunity, tears are likewise packed with immune support. Particularly in emotion-based tears, a potent bacteria-fighting protein called lysozyme helps us fight illness and infection; this is a protein also found in human milk, mucus, and saliva. So, shedding tears is a great way to bolster our body's natural defenses against the very stress depleting us.
4. Crying can elicit needed empathy and deepen intimacy. Shedding tears communicates your feelings to others and (usually) elicits their compassion, a key pillar of emotional intimacy. Support and comfort from others strengthens your relationship with them while also aiding your coping abilities during times of emotional pain. Thanks to our innate capacities for empathy (sometimes attributed to mirror neurons), we're hard-wired to respond to obvious pain with compassion. Crying is nature's way of assuring optimal help from others, which can make you feel understood, comforted, and stronger to face the challenges at hand. It also boosts intimacy by promoting meaningful emotional connection.
5. Weeping can even boost your mood ... after you stop. Interestingly, new data found that for people who watched a sad movie and cried, their mood initially took a dip, BUT returned to even higher levels than their baseline after 90 minutes. To the extent that mood is the result of pent up, unexpressed emotions, crying allows you to express these painful emotions so they neither build up nor ultimately depress your mood. So long as there is an ending point to the crying, tears relieve emotional pressure, and can even elevate your mood.
6. Tears remind us what we really care about. We cry about the things that matter most to us, and in this way, our tears can help us weed out the noise of daily stress and focus in on what's genuinely bothering us. Like anxiety can herald important messages that need attention and solutions, tears often quickly remind us of the situations and values that most deserve our focus and solutions.
7. Crying can boost resilience. Perhaps most importantly, shedding tears demonstrates our capacity to tolerate and move through pain, reminding us of our natural capacities to cope with our feelings. Knowing you can face your challenges boosts your self-confidence, which can shield you from the hopelessness of depression.
Being moved to tears is a uniquely human experience and a complicated one for sure. Not only can crying connect us to the things and people that we care about, but the act of shedding tears can also boost our physical and emotional resilience. Surprisingly, one of the best ways to prevent suffering from really taking hold in our lives may just be to go ahead and "slicken" our troubles with tears — that is, when we can.
As you practice embracing tears that come, aim to stay curious to their message, and to share your experience where you can.
If you find yourself wanting a bit more help making sense of and using your emotions productively, check out Dr. Alicia Clark's website where you can find more resources on managing anxiety, improving your relationships, and finding more balance.