Crying is a common reaction to a number of feelings that humans have, including sorrow, grief, happiness and anger. Yet is there any psychological benefits of crying?
It is important to remember that humans are the only creatures who cry tears. This article discusses why we are crying and what health benefits can there be in crying.
Why do people cry?
Humans produce three types of tears:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
When people talk about crying, they are usually referring to emotional tears.
Benefits of crying
People might seek to suppress tears if they see them as a sign of weakness, but research suggests doing so may mean missing out on a number of advantages. Researchers noticed that crying:
1. Has a soothing effect
Self-soothing is when people:
- regulate their own emotions
- calm themselves
- reduce their own distress
A research carried out in 2014 found that crying can have a direct , self-soothing impact on people. The study explained how crying stimulates the nervous parasympathetic system (PNS) that makes people relax.
2. Gets support from others
Crying can help people get support from those around them, as well as helping people self-sooth.
Crying is essentially an attachment behavior, as this 2016 study describes, as it attracts support from the people around us. This is defined as a social or interpersonal value.
3. Helps to relieve pain
Such chemical compounds help us feel comfortable and can also relieve physical and emotional pain. Crying can therefore help to relieve pain and foster a sense of wellbeing.
4. Enhances mood
Crying will help raise the spirits of people , and make them feel better. Oxytocin and endorphins can also help boost mood, as well as relieve pain. Hence, they are also referred to as “feel good” chemicals.
5. Releases toxins and relieves stress
As humans cry in response to stress, they have a variety of stress hormones and other chemicals in their tears.
Scientists suggest crying could lower the rates of these chemicals in the body, which in effect could relieve stress. However, to confirm that, further work is required in this field.
6. Aids sleep
A small 2015 study showed crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is still under study.
It follows, however, that the calming, mood-enhancing and pain-relieving effects of the above crying will help a person fall asleep more easily
7. Fights bacteria
Cry helps destroy bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a lysozyme fluid.
A research conducted in 2011 showed that lysozyme had such powerful antimicrobial properties that it could also help to minimize the threats of bioterror agents, such as anthrax.
8. Improves vision
Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help keep the eyes moist and avoid the drying out of mucous membranes.
The lubricating influence of basal tears allows people to see more clearly as the National Eye Institute explains. Vision can become blurry when the membranes dry out.
It is natural to cry in response to emotions such as sorrow, joy or anger and has a variety of health benefits.
A constant weeping, however, may often be a sign of depression. People can feel depressed when they cry:
- 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 or someone they know is experiencing depression symptoms, they should talk to a doctor.
If a person feels suicidal, or knows someone who feels like this, they should call:
- emergency services
- the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-8255 (if in the U.S.).
Crying is a natural human reaction to a whole range of emotions with a number of health and social benefits including pain relief and self-relieving effects.
If crying happens frequently, uncontrollably or for no reason, it can be a sign of depression, however. If this is the case, then talking to a doctor is a good idea.