The Health Benefits of Crying
Babies do it. Chopping onions makes us do it. “This is Us” makes me do it, every. damn. episode.
We’ve given certain people, places and things permission to cry or make us cry, but we seldom let tears flow when we’re not expecting their arrival or (society says) it’s an inappropriate time. It’s easy to internalize the unspoken rule around crying – dictating when and how much is okay.
At one particularly trying time in my life, I spent about 365 days in a row crying. Maybe it was longer, I don’t know for sure. It’s all such a snotty, sobby blur.
On top of my sadness, I felt a lot of shame for crying so often. And then I’d cry about my shame. And around and around it went.
There’s still a part of me that wants to shut ‘er down when I get that lump in my throat these days, because I’m scared I’ll go back to not being able to turn off the tap. But, it’s just a fear – false evidence appearing real. That’s what it stands for, right?
The reality is, because I now allow myself to cry when I need to and have supports in place to help me feel better, I can stop when I’m ready to. Most of us experience that kind of relief when we let it out and we’re not holding back.
Yes, we might feel a little embarrassed if we cry in front of someone (thanks for teaching us to be so polite, Canada), but we can’t deny that our body appreciates the release.
Why is that? Well, because I’m a bit of a nerd (I say that with self-love) I looked up the science of it. It turns out, tears release stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic high amounts of these hormones have harmful effects on physical and mental health.
This article describes tears as a “safety valve.” When the body is feeling super stressed, sometimes it decides it’s time to shed some of that sh*t, so it opens this “valve” and out it all goes. How’s that for layman’s terms?
It makes sense then, that we usually feel more calm after we cry – our body has just freed itself of some heavy hormones.
On top of that, happy chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin are released when we shed tears. Out with the heavy stuff, in with the light stuff.
The thing is, our body doesn’t know the real difference between extreme happiness and sadness. Both can feel overwhelming and intense, triggering a stress response – a.k.a the fight-or-flight response. Our heart beats rapidly. Our breathing gets shallow. Our muscles tense up. And, sometimes, we well up.
So, it doesn’t matter if we’re exploding with joy over getting that new promotion or feeling extremely grief-stricken over losing someone we love, our body thinks we’re under stress.
It uses that information to find a way to help us feel better and recalibrate. I think this is seriously cool and a real testament to how beautiful and intelligent our bodies are.
Let’s do our best to make peace with our tears. After all, they’re our body’s way of showing us love, support and guidance on the path to feeling and healing.