When crying as children we may have been told by parents or other care-givers to “Come on dry your eyes!” or “For pity’s sake stop crying!”. So as we grew we learned it was not the social norm to cry in public and may even have felt a sense of shame if we did. As a counsellor, my clients have often broke down in the therapy room when things get too emotional, this gives them much comfort as it is their safe space to do this. Some would apologise, a little embarrassed that they have shown their ‘weakness’ and might say something along the lines of “This isn’t me, I’m a strong person and usually more together than this”. However, have we ever seriously thought about the physiological purpose crying serves? As we will see, in more recent years research has shown the benefits of having a good cry.
Trying to hold back tears might mean you are robbing yourself of a range of benefits. Apart from an obvious social benefit of rallying emotional support from others, when we express our emotions or stress by crying it reduces the levels of toxic chemicals in our body because tears contain a level of stress hormones, which can result in a reduction of stress. So crying has a soothing effect, we are essentially self-soothing. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) serves as a relaxant and crying activates this. Crying also releases oxytocin and other endorphins which can help ease pain and lift someone’s mood. Other physiological benefits include, fighting bacteria for good eye health, improving vision by keeping the eyes moist and aiding sleep. We instinctively know that having a good cry can be cathartic, a watershed of stress that relieves tension. It is a healthy behaviour. Neuroscientist William Frey, a key researcher in this area, states that it is an important way to alleviate stress, which, if left unchecked can have a detrimental effect on our health, leading to heart problems and other stress-related disorders.
So rather than feeling overwhelmed and bottling it all up we should be kind to ourselves and seek a supportive shoulder to cry on or a private space to let it all come out.