We cry when we’re happy, sad, angry, frustrated, and moved… but why? We asked the world’s leading crying experts to weigh in on some theories
What happens before, during, and after crying?
Touching movies, stressful events at home or work, and even good news like a wedding ceremony or a toddler may deliver on the waterworks. Sometimes, you simply want to let the tears flow. But you might no longer understand that crying can have a huge effect on your body and mind—here’s how.
Crying relieves stress
Humans are the solely species to weep from emotions, but scientists nevertheless don’t recognize precisely how the bodily act of crying is connected to our feelings. Why do we cry when we’re sad (and every so often happy)? One of the advantages of blubbering may be that it helps relieve the bodily tension of feeling upset. “It appears that crying starts off evolved simply after the top of physiological arousal as sympathetic undertaking starts to decrease and parasympathetic exercise increases, helping to convey the body back to homeostasis,” says Lauren Bylsma, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In different words, crying takes place as our body returns from an aroused, “fight or flight” nation to a calm, “rest and digest” state.
Crying boosts mood
While you might think that crying would make you feel better if it means your stress is relieved—and it does, sometimes. “In surveys about two-thirds of people usually report feeling better after crying,” says Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida. “It’s likely that people are overreporting or misremembering thesebenefits of crying, however, due to the fact when we elicit crying in a controlled laboratory setting, it’s not as clear that crying makes people experience better. So yes, crying helps our mood—just less than we normally believe.” And how others react to our crying is one of the most important elements in finding out how we experience afterward, according to world-renowned crying professional Ad Vingerhoets, PhD, author of Why Only Humans Weep and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. “If they react with understanding and succor, it is much more likely that you’ll feel better than if they ridicule you and you sense embarrassment,” Dr. Vingerhoets says. “In many cases, the higher mood after having cried is hence the consequence of receiving emotional assistance and comfort.”
Crying sometimes makes you feel worse
Crying in the incorrect vicinity at the incorrect time, or around people who react negatively to your crying can truly make you feel worse. “Crying at home or with supportive buddies is healthy, but crying at work might be considered as inappropriate,”
In addition, although crying may additionally make us experience better in the long run, research shows that the on the spot consequences of crying may honestly worsen our mood. “In a lab learning about people watching an unhappy movie, it takes some time before humans feel better after having cried,” Dr. Vingerhoets says. “Immediately after a sad film, the members suggested a worse mood, however 20 minutes and, in particular, ninety minutes later, they mentioned a better mood than earlier than the movie.” So, it may take a bit of time for crying mood-boosting outcomes to kick in.
Crying improves communication
Not surprisingly, crying in humans first evolved as a way for an infant to get its mother’s attention. “Human kiddies are the most helpless creatures—they cannot grasp to fur like other primates, or observe their mom like ducks,” says Dr. Vingerhoets. Tears of toddlers and teens add a visual component to this cry for help and target a specific caregiver who can see them. As grownups, human beings have adapted these biological features to an emotional one. “Adult tears, like vocal crying, commonly convey the message, ‘I want you, assist me!’” Dr. Vingerhoets says. “It is, in particular, a response to a state of helplessness, which is the contrary of fight-or-flight.”
Crying forges bonds
When we communicate with others thru tears, we are revealing our personal vulnerability. “With supportive people, it can create an expanded feeling of bonding and connection,” Dr. Orloff says. “You have faith the character ample to cry round them.” Crying is, therefore, a sign that we sense close to someone, and this can promote an empathetic response and an emotional connection. Dr. Vingerhoets says that because we don’t like to show our weak spot to strangers, we try no longer to cry in front of them, and as an alternative shop our tears for those we’re closest to.
Crying helps us get what we want
Anyone who’s ever cried after getting pulled over for speeding knows that tears can be a way to provoke a precise reaction that works in our favor. Even if we don’t consciously imply to manipulate, our crying may have the end result of neutralizing anger and making others experience guilty or more inclined to bend to our will. “Crying can also assist elicit social benefits,” Dr. Bylsma says. “It appears to have an important social feature to reduce aggression from others in combat situations.”
Crying is a private release
If crying is such an essential verbal exchange tool, why do we cry when we’re alone? A poll by the airline Virgin Atlantic, which now gives “emotional health warnings” before sad movies, confirmed that forty one percentage of men hid tears in their blankets while on flights (women had been greater probably to fauxthey had something in their eye). This may additionally go returned to the idea of the physique returning to a state of relaxation thru crying—after a busy or demanding day, you’re eventually alone with your thoughts. Dr.Rottenberg additionally says that crying while by myself may nonethelessbe a way to attain out to the universe. “Oftenwhen humans cry in private they are in reality nonetheless appealing for help, such as asking God for help,” he says.
Crying may get rid of toxins
The biochemist William Frey carried out some groundbreaking crying research in the late Nineteen Seventies and early Eighties that suggests that tears assist rid the physique of unwanted toxins. “He compared irritant tears [such as from reducing onions] to emotional tears and observed some chemical differences, like a higher content of some proteins in emotional tears, that might also be due to the release of stress by-products,” Dr. Bylsma explains. But, she says, these results haven’t been replicated recently, in part because it’s clearly challenging to study this in a lab. “It’s very challenging to have people cry to emotional stimuli naturally while having their tears collected, and most of the tears are absolutely absorbed in the nasal passages and cannot be collected,” she says.
Crying may be a natural sanitizer
Another one of the purported benefits of crying is that it helps kill bacteria. It is real that tears include lysozyme, a protein that can damage dangerous molecules. But earlier than you go thinking that your tears have healing powers like the phoenix in Harry Potter, take note that scientists have but to show this definitively. “There is actually no right evidence showing the health benefits of crying,” Dr. Rottenberg says. “These ideas persist because there is almost no science on the physiology of crying, and our people beliefs, which instruct that it is true for health to cry, fill this void.”
Tears help your eyes
Tears moisten the eyes and maintain them healthy. “The biological function of tears is to maintain the eye moist or guard it from fumes or particles that get into the eye,” says Dr. Bylsma. “Emotional tears appeared to have developed from this basic biological process into something more complex in humans that can appear for basically emotional rather than physical reasons.” Nevertheless, peepers that aren’t moisturized with the aid of tears can advance “dry eye,” which can cause ache and even lead to vision loss. (Check the signs and symptoms of dry eye syndrome.)
But too much crying can definitely irritate the eyes, which is why they get crimson and puffy after a principal weeping session. How does this connect to emotional crying? It’s now not clear, however a study of patients with the dry eye condition Sjogren’s syndrome discovered that they had a decreased ability to identify their emotions.
Crying has major physical effects
Crying isn’t just an emotional act—it’s a bodily one. Wracking sobs, headaches, blotchy skin, a runny nose, and full-body shakes are simply a few of the consequences crying can have on your body. Why does this happen? According to Dr. Rottenberg, it has to do with the high arousal state of the flight-or-flight response. Although crying can be the bridge that leads to a more restful state, “in the short term of minutes, there is clear evidence that the act of crying is notably arousing,” he says. “People who cry exhibit multiplied coronary heart costs and increased sweating. In this sense, crying is a ‘workout’ for the body.
However, the door is nevertheless open on the speculation that crying calms the physique over the longer term—we just want more studies that look at the short- and longer-term effects.”
Crying affects other hormones as well
In each guy and woman, other hormones may also be affected by crying. “Though the little reachable evidence is now not honestly strong, it’s been advised that prolactin may facilitate crying,” Dr. Vingerhoets says. “It maybe can explain the maternity blues, the outcomes of alcohol on our crying threshold, and the occasional tears during orgasm.” We do understand that cryingincreases endorphins, the body’s herbal feel-good hormones, Dr. Orloff adds, “so crying is clearly releasing anxiety and, as a result, you feel better.” This may want to be why we sometimes seek out crying by watching an unhappy movie.
Happy crying also helps relax the body
Just as with bad emotions, a stage of heightened arousal Positive emotions can lead to crying. “Crying from negative feelings like sadness, frustration, and anger is more common but crying does happen all through excessive positive emotions too, like happiness, wonder, and awe,” says Dr. Bylsma. “It looks that crying is related with intense physiological arousal that can be connected to each positive and negative emotions, and happens simply after the height of the emotional trip as the person is opening to experience the release of that emotion.” This is why we might cry at weddings, when we see a newborn baby, or even at a magnificent sunset.
- Tears in the Graeco-Roman World: “Crying: A biopsychosocial phenomenon”
- Lauren Bylsma, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
- Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida
- Ad Vingerhoets, PhD, author of Why Only Humans Weep and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands
- Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People
- Motivation and Emotion: “Why crying does and sometimes does not seem to alleviate mood: a quasi-experimental study”
- The Guardian: “Virgin Atlantic in-flight films to carry ‘weepy warnings'”
- Frontiers in Psychology: “Is crying a self-soothing behavior?”
- The New York Times: “BIOLOGICAL ROLE OF EMOTIONAL TEARS EMERGES THROUGH RECENT STUDIES”
- PLoS Pathogens: “From bacterial killing to immune modulation: Recent insights into the functions of lysozyme”
- Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology: “Dealing with emotions when the ability to cry is hampered: emotion processing and regulation in patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome.”
- Science: “Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal”
- PLOS One: “Effects of Chemosignals from Sad Tears and Postprandial Plasma on Appetite and Food Intake in Humans”
- Frontiers in Psychology: “Is crying a self-soothing behavior?”