As humans, we cry for numerous reasons. We cry in response to pain, fear, sadness, or joy. We might cry while watching a movie, over a sentimental greeting card, or cutting onions. Some of us cry when we are angry. Whatever the reason, sometimes our emotions bubble up and spill over, resulting in tears.

Key takeaways:
  • arrow-right
    Tears do more than express we are sad.
  • arrow-right
    Crying and tear production involve the brain.
  • arrow-right
    The benefits of crying depend on our social system, emotional health, culture & more.
  • arrow-right
    We can benefit from crying in the right place, time and company.
  • arrow-right
    Crying all the time is a reason to seek medical attention.

Science can explain some of the crying's benefits, but researchers admit we still have plenty to learn. In this article, we will learn about tears, emotional crying, and if the crying has benefits.

What are tears, and how do we cry?

Our bodies continually make tears — and they help us in several ways. Science tells us we have three types of tears.

  • Basal tears protect and keep eyes moist. These tears are always present.
  • Reflex tears are made in larger quantities and help when we get something in our eyes, such as fumes or foreign bodies, like eyelashes or dirt.
  • Emotional tears are made when we experience joy, anger, or sadness.

Tears contain water (with electrolytes), oil, and mucus. Salt ions in the electrolytes cause our tears to taste salty. Some scientists think there are proteins and hormones in emotional tears that aren’t found in basal or reflex tears. When we cry, these hormones help regulate our emotions. However, science still has much to learn about the exact chemical makeup of emotional tears and if they help us ‘reset’ after crying.

Two areas in our brains help us cry. The brain's limbic system is our emotional center. It sends messages to the lacrimal system to tell it when to produce tears. When these two systems work together, we cry. However, more research is still needed to pinpoint the exact brain processes which make us cry.

Are there benefits of crying?

Well, that depends. A study out of the University of South Florida, When is Crying Cathartic?: An International Study shows us that crying can be beneficial, but it depends on a few factors.

Crying can be beneficial if:

We have social support during crying. Such as a supportive friend or family member being with us while we cry.

The reason we are crying is resolved. For example, if we’re crying from fear and the object of our fear is removed.

We get a better understanding of the reason why we’re crying. A situation is resolved, or we find peace about an event.

Crying can be beneficial throughout our lives. Infants may not shed tears until developing their tear ducts, but they do cry, which is hugely beneficial. An infant’s cry tells us they need something before they have learned to speak. Therefore, crying is an important communication tool for infants.

As we mature, our reasons for crying change. While we may not cry like a baby because we are hungry or uncomfortable, emotional crying can be helpful. It is beneficial if you feel a catharsis or release of strong or bottled-up emotions after crying. Crying can release tension, make us feel better, and reset us emotionally.

When is crying bad for us?

Surprisingly, crying may lead us to feel worse about a situation. This can depend on our culture, family, friends, or gender. It may NOT be the act of crying that makes you feel worse, but the setting or people around you. Let’s look at why we sometimes don’t feel better after crying.

In some cultures, crying is not an acceptable form of emotional expression. Crying in these cultures may lead a person to feel unsupported or even ashamed. If you cry in these cultures and you are made to feel ashamed, crying may cause negative feelings.

In some societies, men are looked down upon for crying. Science tells us that women cry more often, and this is more socially acceptable. So men may feel worse after crying if their circle of family and friends makes them feel weak or ashamed. Emotional crying by either men or women in public may also be frowned upon, so if you cry at work/school, you may feel worse afterward. Also, if your tears are met with unsupportive attitudes from friends, this may lead you to feel worse about crying.

In families with negative emotional relationships, crying might be discouraged. If you weren't raised to feel crying is acceptable, crying may not be helpful. A person in this situation may cry over minor things or be unable to stop crying. Or you may try to suppress crying, which can make you feel worse.

How to have a beneficial cry

Crying can benefit us. We may feel a release after crying that helps us feel calmer. If you feel like crying, think about reaching out to a supportive person. Consider crying in a safe space where you will not be judged. Try not to hold back your tears, as this doesn’t benefit you in the long run. Healthy emotional crying should stop after a time, and how long it lasts depends on the person and the situation.

We can also help others. Be the person you would want there next to you if it were crying. Be supportive, protective, and a good listener. Remember that crying is a normal human reaction to our emotions.

The benefits of emotional crying are clear, and there’s no reason to fight back the tears. However, if your eyes are red, irritated, swollen, or itchy, you should seek medical attention from a healthcare provider. Crying all the time is also a reason to seek medical attention. Eye infections, mental health issues, or brain disorders can cause us to cry constantly. Make a list of your symptoms and review it with a doctor.

Otherwise, go ahead and have yourself a good cry.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked