By Serusha Govender
The Rumor: Crying has health benefits
We all cried when we were babies. But now that we’re adults, many of us often try to hold back our tears in the belief that crying — particularly at work or in public — is seen as a sign of weakness, or as something to be ashamed of. But is it? Or is the act of shedding tears actually healthy?
The Verdict: Shedding tears can be good for your health — especially in the right setting
Having a good cry can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, some psychologists even suggest that we may be doing ourselves a disservice by not tearing up regularly.
“Crying activates the body in a healthy way,” says Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA and director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. “Letting down one’s guard and one’s defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing. The same thing happens when you watch a movie and it touches you and you cry… That process of opening into yourself… it’s like a lock and key.”
The Japanese are such strong believers in the health benefits of crying that they’ve taken that wisdom to the next level. Some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” called rui-katsu (meaning, literally, “tear-seeking”), where people come together to indulge in good old-fashioned sobfests. (To help the tears flow, participants watch tearjerkers.) The premise? Crying releases stress, and is therefore is a great practice when it comes to staying mentally healthy.
Research is backing up that theory. Studies of the various kinds of tears have found that emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones than do basal (aka lubricating) or reflex tears (the ones that form when you get something in your eye). Emotional tears also contain more mood-regulating manganese than the other types. Stress “tightens muscles and heightens tension, so when you cry you release some of that,” Sideroff says. “[Crying] activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.”
Sideroff also believes that “crying clubs” can provide a supportive, safe space to cry for people who struggle to express emotion due to cultural or personal reasons. “It’s a good idea,” he says. “Crying in a group can validate [the practice] and tell you that it’s something that’s OK to do. For a lot of people, it can make it easier to [cry].”
“It’s very primal to cry in a group,” says Judith Orloff, MD, a clinical psychiatry professor at UCLA and author of the book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. “It’s great if you’re comfortable crying in public and there is [mutual reassurance]… But I don’t advise my patients to cry in a business meeting or at work. That could be perceived as weakness.” Instead, Orloff suggests that you find a place where you can cry in privacy, such as an empty office or a bathroom stall.
If you can identify safe spaces to cry in your day-to-day environment, it will become easier for you to reap the physical and emotional rewards of crying — without fear of reprisal or judgment.