I find that crying is wonderful medicine, as good as laughing, which is a pretty high standard. I notice that if a week or two goes by without any crying, I start to feel more down, withdrawn, depressed. Crying lightens the weight around my shoulders and my heart. Do you feel that way too?
There’s a lot of evidence that crying makes people feel better. According to the British psychology Web site Emotional Processing, “Psychotherapists and counselors from nearly every school or persuasion regard crying during a course of therapy as constructive rather than destructive,” though there may be exceptions to this rule for a few mental health conditions. I think that if we don’t let ourselves feel the pain in our lives and cry about it occasionally, we eventually close down all our emotions.
People report that they feel better after crying, and this improved feeling may last for hours or days. However, experimental studies of crying show different results. Usually, subjects are shown a sad movie and are tested on measures of crying and mood before, during, and after. Some of these studies show very little evidence of physiological or mood benefits. It may be that crying over a movie or song when you’re not really sad doesn’t work, but spontaneous crying does.
It may be that most of the good feelings that result from crying are just physical—you get worked up, your muscles tense. Then you take a bunch of deep, sobbing breaths and relax those muscles. Of course you feel better then. But there may be more to it than that.
Why Does Crying Help?
Some “evolutionary psychologists” think that crying started as a way of getting other people to help the crier. Like most evolutionary psych theories, though, this one has no evidence for it and is unprovable. Crying may also be a way of communicating that sad things have happened or that other people have lost something, too.
Others say that, by relaxing us, crying helps people process painful experiences. Crying reduces the pain so people can face and accept the event that has upset them.
As any day care worker knows, crying is contagious. One person crying can get a whole room teary-eyed. Actually, all emotions are contagious, which is very interesting, don’t you think? It shows that we are connected to each other in ways we do not always notice or acknowledge. All cultures cry, although there may be social rules on how and when to do it.
Children, especially boys, are taught not to cry, which is probably a health hazard for them. Given the difference in life expectancies between men and women (about three years worldwide, and more than five in the U.S.), perhaps it’s a major hazard.
Helping Yourself Cry
Do you cry as much as you think is good for you? If not, why not? Maybe there is just nothing sad in your life; you haven’t lost anything significant. It’s hard to imagine many people with diabetes fitting that description. I know I don’t fit there.
Perhaps you worry about what people around you might think. You don’t want to worry them or make them sad. You might have to find time alone to cry, as you would to meditate. Perhaps there should be crying groups, like the laughing clubs you can find at www.laughteryoga.org. Actually, the UK and Japan have such clubs, with gloomy atmosphere, sad films, chopped onions, and other crying aids. They are very popular with the younger set.
When I need to cry but the tears won’t come, I can watch sad movies or listen to sad songs. (I really like the first verse of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” for that.) Even if that doesn’t work in the lab, it works for me, perhaps because I do it when I’m already feeling sad.
Do you feel crying is good for you? If so, are you getting enough of it? If you don’t think it’s helpful, why not? How would you compare the effects of crying with those of laughing? Let us know by commenting here.