The Health Benefits of Crying

Jay Sheen

When people experience frustration, loss, sadness, or stress, some immediately put up emotional barriers, forcing themselves to be strong. Others, however, give themselves permission to shed tears. When they cry away some of the pain, they generally feel better. The reality is that crying can be good for you. Here are some of the health benefits: 

Crying is an important safety valve

Leo Newhouse, LICSW, writes this in the Harvard health blog: “Crying is an important safety valve, largely because keeping difficult feelings inside—what psychologists call repressive coping—can be bad for our health. Studies have linked repressive coping with a less resilient immune system, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, as well as with mental health conditions, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Crying has also been shown to increase attachment behavior, encouraging closeness, empathy, and support from friends and family.”

Crying improves your move

You might think that crying will make you feel sadder, but most people simply feel better after a good cry. There is science that supports this human experience. Scientists categorize three different types of liquid in tears. The first two are called “reflex tears” and “basal tears.” Their purpose is to remove irritants, such as smoke and dust, and lubricate the eyes to prevent infection. Their content is 98 percent water. The third category of tears is “emotional tears.” They flush toxins out of the body and actually release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which ease physical and emotional pain.

Crying soothes you

Researchers have learned that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), an impor­tant part of the human nervous system which helps the body rest, relax, and release. Tom Bunn, LCSW, explains that PSNS “is the name of the system that calms you. Para . . . means against and sympathetic refers to the sympathetic nervous system, the system that revs you up when stress hormones are released. The parasympathetic nervous system is designed by nature to oppose the sympathetic nervous system and keep it from causing hyperarousal.”

Crying helps you heal emotionally

After a major loss such as the death of a loved one, crying can help you heal faster. Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends with You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, says, “Everyone needs to know how to grieve and how to be sad in order to get over difficult events. There are a certain number of tears you must cry to let go, and getting on with crying is the fastest way.”

Crying relieves stress

When stress isn’t relieved, people often turn to alcohol or drugs to reduce the stress. Shedding some tears is a much healthier alternative. When you view tears as one of the body’s natural healing mechanisms, you’ll be more likely to let yourself cry now and then and less likely to try to cope by becoming numb or turning to addictions.

Crying strengthens connections

We often hesitate to cry in front of others because we don’t want to appear vulnerable or emotionally weak. Rather than feel shame or embarrassment over tears, try to remember that emotional vulnerability can strengthen your significant relationships. When we are able to cry in front of others, we allow them to see a different side of us, one that is softer, gentler, and vulnerable. By sharing those emotions with your family or close friends, you can form a deeper, more authentic bond.

Crying kills bacteria

A good cry can be a good way to kill bacteria, according to health writer Lizette Borreli. “Tears contain the fluid lysozyme—also found in human milk, semen, mucus and saliva—that can kill 90 to 95 percent of all bacteria in just five to 10 minutes. A 2011 study published in the journal Food Microbiology found tears have such strong antimicrobial powers they can even protect against the intentional contamination of anthrax. Lysozyme can kill certain bacteria by destroying bacteria cell walls—the rigid outer shell that provides a protective coating.”

Crying calms you

Most people feel calmer and even blissful after a good cry. That’s because breathing stabilizes, heart rate decreases, and blood pressure lowers. One study revealed that nearly 89 percent of people feel better after crying, with a mere 8 percent feeling worse. The simple fact is that crying is physically calming.

Crying helps you learn about yourself

Sometimes we turn away from unpleasant emotions and suppress them. Crying is what helps us recognize that something is amiss. That awareness leads us to look more closely at ourselves and the source of our pain. Once the problem or pain is identified, you can make the necessary adjustments and take the appropriate steps to move forward. So, when you feel tears welling up, don’t feel you have to hold them back. Whether you’re crying about a person, a job, or a difficult situation, your tears help you know what is important to you. 

Based in Oklahoma, Jay Sheen specializes in writing about mental and spiritual health.

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