Jesus wept.” – John 11:35
When people experience frustration, loss, sadness or stress, some immediately put up emotional barriers and force themselves to be strong. Others, however, give themselves permission to shed tears and cry away. Many of us try to hold back the tears, but the reality is that letting them out can be good for us. It can take away some of the pain, help us process emotions and make us feel better. Here are 10 reasons why letting it all out could actually be good for us:
1.CRYING IS AN IMPORTANT SAFETY VALVE
That’s something noted by social worker Leo Newhouse, who wrote in the Harvard health blog: “Crying is an important safety valve, largely because keeping difficult feelings inside—what psychologists call repressive coping—can be bad for our health. Studies have linked repressive coping with a less resilient immune system, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and mental health conditions, including stress, anxiety and depression. Crying has also been shown to increase attachment behaviour, encouraging closeness, empathy, and support from friends and family.”
2.CRYING IMPROVES MOOD
Many people express feeling better after a good cry. This is spoken of in the Bible: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5, NIV). There is science which supports this human experience. Scientists categorise three different types of liquid in tears. The first two are called “reflex tears” and “continuous tears”. They aim to remove irritants such as smoke and dust from the eyes and lubricate them to prevent infection. Their content is 98 per cent water. The third category is “emotional tears”. They flush toxins out of the body and release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals that ease physical and emotional pain.
3. CRYING ELICITS SUPPORT
When we are seen weeping, it rallies support from the people around us. This is known as an interpersonal or social benefit. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests people cry to gain comfort from others, even if the person weeping isn’t aware they’re doing that. The study explains that crying “is a key attachment behaviour intended to elicit care and comfort from close others throughout life”.
4. CRYING HELPS US MOVE ON QUICKER
After a major loss, such as the death of a loved one, crying can help you heal faster and move on. Tina B Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, says: “Everyone needs to know how to grieve and how to be sad in order to get over difficult events. There are a certain number of tears you must cry to let go, and getting on with crying is the fastest way.”
5. CRYING STRENGTHENS RELATIONSHIPS
The main reason we hesitate to cry in front of others is to avoid feeling vulnerable or emotionally weak. Rather than feel shame or embarrassment over tears, try to remember that they can strengthen your significant relationships. When we can cry in front of others, we allow them to see a different side of us—one that is softer, gentler, sensitive, vulnerable and uninhibited. A deeper, stronger emotional bond can be established between our family and close friends through those emotions.
6. CRYING IS IMPORTANT SELF-CARE
That’s the observation of Dr Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Psychiatric Clinical Faculty: “Crying and honouring your own needs and sensitivities is a critical part of self-care and being loving with oneself, being aware of one’s needs and honouring them to benefit the health of the body, mind and spirit.”
7. CRYING IS A WAY OF GETTING HELP WITHOUT ASKING FOR IT
This is stated in the Bible: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15). As adults we often find it difficult to ask for and receive help. Our culture places a strong emphasis on being independent and self-reliant. While those may be good virtues, there are times when we simply need a helping hand to lift us up. When others see us weeping, there’s a high probability they will come over and respond with comments such as, “I can see you’re upset . . Would you like to talk?” Or, they may embrace us or gently touch our hand, arm or shoulder. This social support makes us feel better quickly.
8. CRYING KILLS BACTERIA
“A good cry can also be a good way to kill bacteria,” says health writer Lizette Borreli. “Tears contain the fluid lysozyme—also found in human milk, semen, mucus and saliva—that can kill 90 to 95 per cent of all bacteria in just five-to-ten minutes. A 2011 study published in the journal Food Microbiology found tears have such strong antimicrobial powers they can even protect against the intentional contamination of anthrax. Lysozyme can kill certain bacteria by destroying bacteria cell walls—the rigid outer shell that provides a protective coating.”
9. CRYING MAKES YOU CALMER
Most people experience a zen-like moment after a good cry, and they’re calmer and even feel blissful. That’s because breathing stabilises the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. One study revealed that 88.8 per cent of people feel better after crying, with a mere 8.4 per cent feeling worse. The simple fact is that crying is physically calming.
10. CRYING CAN BE A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
That’s a perspective promoted by writers Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, directors of the website Spirituality and Practice. They make this observation: “We weep with gratitude over all the amazing gifts from God that come our way. We cry when we share moments of great elation with others. Tears enable us to get in touch with our deepest feelings. They help us express our grief at endings and the loss of those who are precious to us. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He also wept over the city of Jerusalem and in our time, we weep over Jerusalem and Baghdad and Kabul and the refugee cities in Palestine and the Sudan and elsewhere . . .Tears are a gift of grace from God.”
So, when you feel tears welling up, don’t feel like you must hold them back. “There is nothing wrong with crying,” says author Terry Brooks. “Your feelings tell you who you are. They tell what is important. Don’t ever be ashamed of them.”
Victor Parachin is an ordained minister and the author of several books about bereavement including Healing Grief and The Lord is My Shepherd: A Psalm For the Grieving.