The Answer To: Is It Healthy To Cry
Updated February 07, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
Crying itself is a healthy reaction to emotional events. Your body is made to cry in order to relieve emotional stress. The problem lies in chronic bouts of crying, such as crying every day. So, the answer to "Is it healthy to cry?" is both yes and no. Whether your tears are healthy depends upon how often crying occurs and what the reasons are.
Benefits of crying
Sure, you may see crying as a negative thing to do. But that's because you're in a negative mood when it happens. Bad days are going to happen, and the truth is that crying can actually help you to cope and feel better. Check out these benefits of crying:
- Lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases by relieving stress
- Releases toxins from the body, which can build up during stressful situations
- Conveys to others that you need help and support, which you may not get if they don't recognize that you are stressed
- Indicates that you recognize your feelings, which gives you the opportunity to move forward
Rather than criticizing yourself for crying, recognize that the tears perform a necessary function for your mind and your body. They are literally helping you to heal. If you tend to avoid crying about your problems, try setting a time for yourself when you will be alone and can allow yourself to reflect on what's bothering and hopefully shed some tears.
Humans also avoid crying for social reasons. If you are close to someone, you do not have to be afraid to cry in front of them. It does not make you look weak. It makes you look like you trust them.
However, crying should not be used to manipulate others. And crying about every little thing is rarely well received by others. People may begin to see your tears as insincere.
Is it healthy to cry often?
Let's start by pointing out that there is no "right" number of times a person should cry in a given time frame. Crying dozens of times per year can be completely normal. But if you find that you shed tears more days than you don't, you may want to consider whether you have an underlying mental health problem, such as depression, that needs to be addressed.
Of course, the opposite extreme is not healthy either. We have discussed the benefits of crying when stress is getting to you. Holding in your tears and never crying can also be a sign that you need to develop better coping mechanisms for stress. Avoiding your own emotions makes it difficult to share your feelings in relationships and get support when you need it from those who care about you. Whether you cry too much or have trouble releasing tears, you can turn to a professional therapist for help working through emotional stress.
Since about 1500 B.C. humans have pondered why people cry and where tears come from. They thought back then that we cried from our hearts, even though it may feel like it at times we know now that is not true. It was not until 1662 that it was discovered that there is a gland called the lacrimal gland responsible for tears.
There are three types of tears: the first one is called basal tears which lubricate and protect the eye and the second type are reflex tears which help clear the eye of irritants such as smoke or vapors. The third type of tear is unlike the other two because it is shed only in response to emotions and unlike basal and reflex tears it's different also by its chemical composition. This last type of tear is unique in that it is made up of prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, only humans shed this type of tear as animals tear up only as part of their normal ocular functioning. The type of tear that is shed during crying is thicker than the other two produced, allowing it to run down the face slower, making it more visible to others.
Tears overall remain a medical mystery as there are people who claim that they don't cry at all, ever. And research is showing that individuals who do not cry may be less socially connected. These individuals may be seen as more withdrawn and label their own relationships as less connected. Upon interview, the people in a study by Clinical Psychologist Cord Benecke were also found to experience more negative emotions than those who cried.
In another study, based on a sample of 475 people who had lost their capacity to cry, similar findings were found. The study conducted by Trimble, Vingerhoets and Dale Hesdorffer of Columbia University found that people who don't cry rate themselves comparably in well-being to those that did cry but reported receiving less empathy and social connection with others. Their difficulty to cry made getting social support more difficult and reported that not being able to cry has negatively impacted them.
There's still more that scientists are trying to discover. But if we look at the world around us, we can see that crying serves many different functions just based on our own personal histories. It is healthy to cry in that it's natural to us as a human species. In babies, crying helps the young child acquire needed assistance, and this same idea carries into adulthood. As crying is a signal that we need help.
Crying helps express sadness and other emotions that may feel too complex to communicate verbally. It can feel self-soothing and cathartic for some people to cry. We might cry at a wedding upon witnessing two people unite but we may also cry to mourn the loss of a loved one or even help soothe confusion after a breakup. The different moments experienced throughout life stretch beyond the context of "happy" or "sad". We may feel mixed emotions as we teeter-totter between anger, grief, surprise, and empathy.
Have you ever seen someone cry and begin to cry yourself? There is a connection of sympathy that scientists have labeled as an "interpersonal functioning" that crying gives us. When an individual is seen crying it is read clearly as that person is experiencing sadness or distress. Tears may have a role in reducing aggression either biologically or socially thus quelling heated arguments between lovers. It is partly unique to our experience as humans to be able to cry and garner support, assistance, and comfort nonverbally.
It is healthy to ask for help when we need it and crying communicates that for us. It may be difficult at times to allow ourselves to cry because we don't want to appear weak. Next time, remind yourself that crying means you don't have all of the answers. It means you are trying to cope with uncomfortable emotions like fear, embarrassment, and humility. It also means you are willing to be vulnerable.