MH@H Mental Health

Is Crying Good For You?

Is crying good for you? - image of cartoon face crying

Crying can be a sign of joy, sadness, or frustration. Crying in public isn’t generally considered socially acceptable, and may be interpreted as a weakness. But are there any benefits from it? Well, maybe.

Who cries, and when?

Crying in response to pain is common until adolescence, but adults don’t usually cry for that reason. Older adults become more likely to cry in positive situations, particularly situations that are quite meaningful to them.

One study found that people in wealthier countries tended to cry more than people in poorer countries. The researchers speculated that emotional expression may be considered culturally unacceptable in poorer countries. Perhaps crying is seen as an indulgence.

Gender makes a difference. Females cry more often and more intensely than men; there’s undoubtedly a strong cultural element to that, but it may also be partly hormonal, with testosterone inhibiting crying. Females are more likely to cry in conflict situations, which may be culturally related to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, which are the most likely of any kinds of emotions to precipitate crying. I’ve done this and I hate it. I’m not generally anti-cry, but in situations where you want to come across as strong, bursting into tears doesn’t exactly help with that.

Personality also has an impact. People who have high levels of the personality trait neuroticism (a tendency to experience more negative emotions) tend to cry more than people with low levels of the trait.

What effect does crying have?

While people often report feeling that crying is beneficial, research has had mixed results. It’s been speculated that crying may trigger the release of oxytocin or endogenous opioids, which could promote more positive feelings, but that hasn’t been clearly established yet.

Circumstances can influence how a cry session will affect us. People are more likely to feel that crying has been beneficial if they receive social support from one person as a result. However, the effect is more likely to be the opposite if there are two or more people present. Crying is also more likely to be judged as beneficial if the issue that prompted it somehow gets resolved.

People with secure attachment styles are likely to feel more comfortable crying than people with insecure attachments, who may be activated to cry easily but hard to soothe once they get going.

While gender and neuroticism are both associated with crying more, they don’t seem to influence the likelihood of experiencing positive effects from it. Another personality trait, alexithymia (which involves difficulty identifying feelings) is associated with crying less and being less likely to find it to be beneficial. People with high levels of alexithymia may even experience a worsening of mood post-cry.

Several studies have shown that people with depressive and anxiety disorders are less likely to report benefits from crying. People who experience shame in relation to crying are also less likely to experience beneficial effects from it, which isn’t surprising.

Oddly enough, the smell of female emotional tears seems to be a turn-off to men. This isn’t just a one-off finding; after one study arrived at this conclusion, another group of researchers were able to replicate the results.

What’s your experience?

I think there have definitely been times when having a full-on ugly cry has been a cathartic experience for me. Tears in social experiences where I really didn’t want them weren’t helpful. Tears in power imbalance situations suck big-time. Recently, the times I’ve cried have tended to be a slow seepage of tears, which doesn’t seem to have much of an emotional impact either way.

How do you tend to react post-cry?

People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long.

Sources

  • Collier, L. (2014). Why we cry. American Pyschological Association Monitor on Pyschology.
  • Rottenberg, J., Bylsma, L. M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2008). Is crying beneficial? Current Directions in Psychological Science17(6), 400-404.
  • Vingerhoets, A. J., & Bylsma, L. M. (2016). The riddle of human emotional crying: A challenge for emotion researchers. Emotion Review8(3), 207-217.

100 thoughts on “Is Crying Good For You?”

  1. I am all for a good cry every now and then so long as it’s private. It feels cathartic to me to cry but only if done in the privacy of my own home or with family or good friends. I have had an experience of crying in the workplace and that is the worst. You are labelled for sure as not being professional and being weak and incompetent and so on. I think crying at work puts you at risk and you feel horrible post-cry for sure.

    1. Just to add to the above reply. When I cried at work it was because I experienced my supervisor saying one thing at time X and another thing at time Y. I felt that he was lying or at least misrepresenting the truth. I would have done better to ask him questions about what he was saying at time X and what he was saying at time Y. In any case, it would have come down to a choice of believing him or believing me. Don’t know if using words instead of tears would have gotten me anywhere different? But if it happens again that way I think I’d like to try to ground truth the behavior even if it is my supervisor’s behavior. Thanks for letting me add my two cents.

  2. Well I don’t cry all that often, but I always feel better after I do. I feel “cleansed” — or something like that. Similar to how one feels after a good run or a shower. But different, sort of more profound – or something.

  3. If it occurs in public, I feel that it will make people uncomfortable, and it’s generally associated with a sudden loss of control. What I dislike is when it starts to happen when I’m speaking — when I get choked up. In those instances I try to suppress it and go forward with the sentence. The person I’m with is almost never as emotional as I am at such moments, and that’s something to consider.

  4. I associate crying with negative feelings, for example when I’m really really angry, I’ll usually burst into tears. People don’t realize it’s suppressed rage that causing the tears. So I’ve learned to ‘flight’ when I feel that way, because staying around the situation might result in violence. Another example of negative emotion with tears is despair. When my parents passed away (even though it was three years apart), I cried so much from grief that at one point I became suicidal. I’ve never experienced tears of joy. Tears are not cathartic to me. The first full blown panic attack I ever had resulted in tears too. I was so embarrassed again I ran away from the situation. I couldn’t breathe and my nose got all stuffed up from bawling. I guess crying is good for a person, in that it’s a sort of release valve effect, but as far as I’m concerned? You can keep it.

  5. Crying is usually a release for us and we like feeling relief. We cry at most therapy sessions, which is 3 days per week. We don’t cry as much in front of our outside Children because we feel bad having to be comforted by them. But it occasionally happens. Until the last several years, we did not cry. Maybe it’s because of that word you used about not understanding our emotions. Our Littles cry, and we think it’s acceptable to cry whenever and wherever it comes up even though we try to hold them back. We cried at the doctor’s office the other day because the injection hurt.

    Crying seems as human and natural as breathing and eating to us.

    Other people’s tears can make us uncomfortable mostly if we feel we caused them (and we do generally feel responsible for everyone’s emotions). Still, we would not criticize someone for it

    1. Absolutely! And the discomfort we feel when we see another person crying is to an extent an extension of how comfortable we are with the concept of crying. For some it comes as a shock and even anger, because they have been taught that crying is associated with weakness.

  6. Oh gosh, crying! I wish it wasn’t so tricky.
    I guess usually the way I feel post-cry is simply numb, which is better considering that usually when I cry I must be really distressed. Sometimes though my brain feels clearer and sort of lighter afterwards and I’m able to see things from a bit of a different angle than before, a bit like it sometimes is with a good night’s sleep. Otherwise I feel ashamed, because I have a skewed idea about crying.
    I learned quite successfully not to cry and always felt like it makes me seem very weak, if not simply shows that I’m weak and that it’s definitely a bad thing. Now I rationally don’t think this way so much anymore, but I guess I do on the subconscious level, or something like that. I also don’t like how it makes me feel totally out of control. When I became quite good at keeping things inside so that I could no longer easily let them out, I started to think that perhaps it’s actually not such a good thing because I would often hear people (I was a teenager then) talk about how this movie/song/book made them cry so bad, because it was either so positively moving or so sad, or how they were moved to tears by someone who is in a difficult situation or something, and I felt like something maybe was wrong with me if I totally couldn’t cry for such sublime reasons. I had a friend who was very emotional like that and she was also really caring about other people, so I guess I got the idea that you can’t be truly caring if you can’t cry with those who are crying. Additionally my Mum has her eyes on a real wet spot, anything, happy or sad, can make her cry, even a children’s TV show or a quote she can strongly relate to, same with my grandma but with her it’s thrice as frequent. And I guess it’s often so that people who are easily moved to tears by beautiful things or someone’s suffering are considered more sensitive or empathetic or something, so that made me feel kind of evil, as if it was the external signs of your feelings that are most important. 😀 I only remember a few times when I cried because I was moved by something, either sad or beautiful, and only once cried in response to a happy situation but that was kind of bittersweet rather than fully happy situation.
    These days, I also cry rarely and I somehow don’t think I’ll ever have a fully healthy relationship with crying. I often feel like I would like to be able to cry when I’m sad or helpless but not angry at the same time or just have a lot of feelings. I feel like it could be good, make me feel calmer, or just release the tension that I feel because of these emotions. But I hardly ever can actually do it, it feels almost like it’s physically impossible. When I somehow manage to, I typically can’t stop for a long time and then feel numb afterwards.
    On the other hand I do cry when I want it least, like when I’m angry, especially the way you mentioned because of feeling helpless. I absolutely hate it because it doesn’t make the situation any better, and also people somehow often don’t seem to link anger with crying so they don’t get the message that I’m angry or frustrated, which makes me even more angry. Also crying around other people sucks.
    Whenn I’m generally feeling really off-kilter emotionally or a lot is going on for me I sometimes end up crying, but only when other people are around, my brain’s malicious. 😀 Probably because I focus too much on not crying when I feel like I might cry. Or when I have challenging conversations with people, not even arguments but about some difficult topic for example, I’ll often also feel like crying, and I’m really self-conscious that the person I’m talking with will pick up on it and when they’ll pick up on it I’ll start actually crying, so that can be a bit of a vicious circle sometimes. 😀
    I think the fact that I have such a strong tendency for bottling things up makes it harder to control things when releasing some strong emotions, as once you open the bottle it’s difficult to close. Sometimes I think, a bit humourously and a bit anxiously, that maybe I’m going to end up like my grandma and will cry at the slightest thought of what scary catastrophes will happen to the world thirty years after my death. Or maybe I’d be even more hysterical as I already tend to have uncontrollable fits of laughter in the least appropriate situations, and this is also partly driven by self-consciousness. Thankfully I also have my Dad’s genes, and his family aren’t quite so exuberant, so hopefully they’ll save me from such fate. 😀

    1. There are a lot of terrible things in the world to worry about now, so it seems like a pretty safe bet that you’re not going to move towards your grandma’s opposite extremee.

  7. Very interesting! Not good to know that men are turned off by it! 😀 That bodes poorly for my love life. I’m a crier. I was just ugly-crying a day or two ago. Oh my goodness. But it does make me feel better. I can intuitively relate to the possibility that ugly-crying could trigger happytimes chemicals in the brain. I feel very soothed after I’ve lost it. Then I’m like a total mess with snot all over my shirt, tears all over my eyeglasses, and spit getting dried up in my mouth. (Sorry if that was TMI.) I think I’ve cried in public. Ohh, yeah, I used to do it all the time as a teenager at church. I’d cry through youth choir practice. Just sit there and cry. People sometimes tried to cheer me, and I always appreciated their efforts, but the dam couldn’t be stopped at that point; I guess because of how emotional I was and how I’d grown up with a mean mother and had never had friends until then–age fifteen. To say they got fed up with me would be an understatement. In retrospect, though, I don’t blame myself. I’m not sure who I do blame, but… [shrug]… I don’t feel like beating myself up over it. I’m guessing it wasn’t my fault. I mean, trust me on this–I couldn’t rein it in to save myself. I was just lost by that point. But fortunately now I feel like I have good friends to turn to, and I’m much more composed than I used to be. I do like crying. For me it releases all the sadness and then I feel dopey.

    1. I’m not sure that it’s even possible to ugly cry without snot getting flung where it doesn’t belong. Crying with glasses is definitely more of a production than without.

      1. So true!! I swear, you’re speaking my language!! Huh. I wonder what happens if you’re wearing contacts? (I’ve never had them.)

  8. I love crying! I didn’t learn how to cry until I was in my late 30’s, after 3 years of therapy. The only part of crying I don’t like is that I cry when I am angry and yes, that is such a no-go at the office. I cry at the drop of hat – if someone else is crying, I’m crying along. Happy, sad, frustrated, touched by kindness, receive a gift – hell, anything, good or bad makes me cry. And when I’m just about to go over the edge, a good, solid, body-racking cry just relieves the stress and the tension. Yup, let’s hear it for crying! Woo-hoo!

  9. Another AWESOME read. A good cry is good for the soul. Love having a good cry when worship super fantastic. Have a nice sniffle thinking of folks I love. A nice cry in the shower helpful at times when life has kicked my rear especially hard. Absolutely NO shame in crying in public. Time folk stop hiding their hearts and feelings. Life is short. Most folk who have problems with your showing emotion I have found are ones who struggle with showing any type of emotion. So your tears at times are reflection of tears folk wish they could shed. Have been there unable to Express emotion due to a million reasons. Now that I am free to l do my utmost to let folk know it’s ok to cry. Also ok if your heart is too hurt or not ready to. Important thing to know is YOU are important. Your tears are priceless. Love this!!! More please and thanks.😎❤❤🔥

  10. “Ugly cry” 😆😆😂. Queen, I love you. I love your subtle humor.
    I try to be macho and not cry but sometimes I do a little bit. Especially if I am in PMS I will privately become moved by something I see on tv or whatever. Connected to compassion. It’s very stoic though and I fight it. I seldom “ugly cry”.

    1. Let’s face it: I’m sensitive, I’m a huge romantic, and in some ways I am even girly. But I was raised in a very don’t be real kinda family so I don’t let it hang out.

  11. I’ve been known to indulge in a good ugly cry every so often, although rarely in front of people. While sometimes I feel much better after, other times I wind up with a raging headache for my efforts 🙂

  12. I am proud to say as a man that I cry.
    Growing up in my generation they would tell you, “big boys don’t cry”. I wonder how many men have bottled up their feelings until they explode in a very harmful manner.
    I cried when my daughter was born. I have cried watching the funeral of a fifteen year old who rebelled and killed himself on a motor bike.
    I have cried at the loss of a family member.
    Crying is the greatest relief valve that a person has.

  13. It’s an interesting one about there being generally less crying in poorer countries. I’d like to know what people in both typically cry about. Maybe those in poorer countries value different things and are more content, versus the wealthier countries where there’s so much more stuff, the portrayal of there always being ‘something better’ to reach for, the pressures, the immense amount of ‘stuff’ to stress over that’s not really all that important in the grand scheme of life.

    I’m a bit funny with crying lately in the sense that I’ve been mostly busy distracting myself and remaining more neutral and numb. I do get the times where my face starts to crack and I start crying in front of someone, and I couldn’t stop it from happening if even someone paid me. But I don’t feel better for it at all, not unless I go away afterwards and have a hardcore cry. Like you, I’ve found that it’s the full on, snotty crying can be pretty cathartic. Very cathartic actually, and enough to completely exhaust you afterwards and reduce thus reduce anxiety levels for a little while. xx

  14. Growing up I was very poor. I never thought that was why we weren’t allowed to cry though. My Dad just didn’t want us showing any emotion ever. I have 2 other sisters and only me and my middle sister would have to remain like soldiers at all times. Whether we were sad, scared, hurt, angry it didn’t matter. But the youngest was different. She lived a totally different live than us.

  15. I cry most days…and sometimes its due to hormonal issues, sometimes anger and hurt, pain, deep emptiness, and it may be due to experiencing deep shame too. Cptsd and bpd mixed together make it so that there are usually a lot of tears, either from triggers, or emotional buttons, and things we find difficult.
    I hate it, but after a good crying session, I do generally feel better and it releases some pressure inside.
    I have different types of crying too…
    Sometimes I try to hide my tears or if they are angry tears, I scream and cry into a pillow.

    All I know is my eyes are always reasonably puffy…and with possibly peri-menopausal symptoms now, it seems more crying is on the cards…

    It’s a mess really…

    It was interesting to read that the smell of tears is a turn-off for men…

    1. I used to have PMS-triggered crying. I seem to have mostly aged out of PMS, but I have a feeling it might just be the lull before the storm of menopause.

      The turn-off thing was weird.

  16. I wrote a poem recently called “Go ahead, please cry” and called for a movement. When others tell you not to cry it is their own feelings they aren’t wanting to express. Expressing is healthy, necessary and human! This is part of the stigma that needs adjusting I feel. The blocking of energy and stuck emotions is the issue. Let’s be real. Real humans cry!! Great piece Ashleyleia 👏

  17. What a great read. I’m on the neurotic side of the scale, so tears can easily beckon. Luckily, depression usually kills emotional responses. Oddly, that doesn’t apply to sad reads and movies. I let out there, although only in secret.

    The tears that rise up when I’m angry or frustrated are so annoying. I wish the problem was uncontrollable fire spitting or something. I feel it diminishes my message. Mostly though, I don’t like to cry, especially if it’s being triggered by my mental illnesses. In those cases, it rarely solves my problems and my nose gets completely stuffed with adjacent swollen sinuses. I hate that part.

    And yes, I agree. Ugly crying is defined by the snot quantity 😂

    1. Dictionary.com needs to update its entry. They say: “Ugly cry refers to an intense sobbing which contorts the face of the person crying in way that is often perceived as exaggerated or unpleasant.” Contortion doesn’t matter when snot is flying everywhere.

      Fire spitting is a superpower that I would like to have!

  18. I can’t generalize when I cry…but I can say that I cry when I get disappointed with my results when I worked very hard to achieve it…when I lose something precious… when I’m very scared for a situation in future for which I’m least prepared and having least time to prepare myself for it and then last thing I would do is crying… when I get scolded I used to cry as a kid…now as an 19 year old, I try to calm down myself because I was harming myself after getting scolded but sooner or later when I’m alone in a room, I cry a lot… idk if that crying session helps me… but my parents feel that I’m trying to gain sympathy by crying and that provokes more crying… I also cried in my 1st session with my College counselor while explaining my situation… these days even thinking about lockdown situation makes me cry at last…

  19. I believe crying should not be seen as a sign of weakness. I think it is the most liberating emotion, and the best way to release the pent up energy. It should be encouraged, no matter the gender of the person.

  20. An amazingly well informed post, huge props. Going from my subjective experience, crying sessions helped calm me down and clarify my thoughts, while also bring me into a much more positive mood. Naturally, that’s only anecdotal evidence so a gazillion other factors might’ve come into play. I’ve rarely cried with many people around though, that might’ve help haha

  21. Good post. The last time l cried and really sobbed was with the death of Scrappy, l didn’t cry when Suze and l split up, although l lost a few tears when she told me of her cancer diagnosis last year and l shed a few tears of relief when l heard the price of my teeth last week.

    Suze on the other hand cries quite bit – firstly before the cancer as a way of releasing her emotions – she would say a good cry – prevents her becoming pent up, although now, post cancer and cancer treatment she also cries a lot more because she is so frustrated at everything.

      1. Oh yes very much so, l might be crying soon funnily enough – when the dentists start their craft … hahaha 🙂

        Suze does, you know, l wish in some ways she would write about it, because so many people don’t understand cancer, they think that people get it, then get treatment and then they are fixed ………….. but that’s just so not the case.

        At times l feel quite helpless .

  22. good or bad crying is necessary….its just a way of expressing ur emotions…is a way to explode the dangerous raw material that might bcom more hazardous if stored inside….afterall..crying means that u have survived the situations worth taking a break from the bravery and strong mind!!!!!

  23. A proper, bawling, snotty sob is so good for my well-being! 😭😊

    I do also cry when I’m frustrated and cross and can’t seem to communicate or express myself adequately or clearly. That can be annoying, especially when I’m trying to appear calm and collected.

  24. Absolutely a good cry sometimes is always good, it’s a way of letting go of that emotions and looking at the situation at hand with fresh eyes and perspective thank you for the post🌼💛

  25. My ability to cry in different situations and my feelings post-crying have both changed over time and with therapy.

    I’m still really private about crying but I don’t move to stop it if I’m safely in my room. I used to have to, to avoid verbal abuse about being “weak” if caught. I also no longer shame myself for crying and have learned to offer myself compassion.

    I cry freely in therapy if I need to.

    A new thing has been feeling like I desperately want to cry but it’s “blocked”. Music helps me get unblocked though.

      1. Mhm, it’s a bit of an inside joke between my therapist and me these days about how I used to absolutely shut off my tears. 😆

        I’ll tease her on how she doesn’t fetch me tissue anymore, because she basically had to in the past, as I used movement very effectively to shut down tears haha.

  26. I cry almost periodically, weirdly enough. I hate it and it’s usually due to fights at home. Sometimes, I’m more irritable than I am at other times. Crying for such reasons as I do is very unpleasant. The “venting out” crying, is however very beneficial.

  27. All these facts about crying!!!
    I never knew about it.

    After crying, I feel alright. But when it is attached to someone whom I really love like a loved one’s death, I cant stop and its hard for me (and maybe for everyone) to stop crying.

    I loved the quote at the end.
    Thanks for sharing.

  28. I tend to have tears rolling down my face when I’m in a state of worship. The last time that I cried uncontrollably was when I experienced pain. In each case, I always feel r
    a sense of relief afterwards.

  29. People who had suffered stroke are known to cry rather involuntarily, unprovoked and for no apparent reason, just as they may laugh or even swear. A condition called aphasia as a result of brain damage could be the cause. When the brain’s “BIOS chip” or bsal ganglia gets damaged, emotions may go haywire.

  30. Of course it is. It’s merely an expression of emotions just like laughter. As it’s seen as a weakness in the majority of society, it is a taboo.

  31. It’s taken me many years to finally be comfortable with crying, ever. As someone with childhood PTSD and a constant obsession with being perfect and independent, I hated the idea of showing any kind of negative emotions, both to other people and myself. But it really is so cathartic. Bottling it up is the absolute worst thing you can do. Great post!

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