Here’s Why Crying is Really, Really Good For You
The eternal question from time immemorial : Is crying good for health? Well, firstly we will put the facts forward as they are, and later discuss its effects on health.
WHAT IS CRYING
Crying is an intricate secretomotor phenomenon which involves the shedding of tears from the lacrimal organ. It involves a variety of facial expressions due to stimulation of the facial muscles and also includes distinct sounds and respiratory gasps that are made. Crying and its effects can be broadly classified into 2 categories-
Effects within the individual- The effects of crying on the individual per se are primarily of relief from stress and anxiety along with mood enhancement in most cases.
Effects in society- The effects of crying on the society is an appeal seen for presence and attachment needs from the caregiver. Some theories are there which show crying promoting empathy and bonding behavior and reducing inter-personal animosity.
CRYING AND SELF-SOOTHING BEHAVIOR
Self-soothing is a form of emotion regulation that has external and internal factors aimed at evaluating and changing emotional reactions to calm the individual in distress. It can be categorized as response-focused emotion regulation which refers to dealing with one’s emotion after the onset of a situation so that the negative feelings/emotions attached to the situation are modulated.
In simple terms, self-soothing is multiple responses of the individual to relieve him from recently received stress. The responses can be with individuals trying to keep themselves busy, engaging in physical activity, talking it out with friends and family, or even the use of drugs and alcohol as a mode of escapism. Such behaviors are seen not only in later life but since birth such as when the infant is stressed (absence of mother). It resorts to behaviors like thumb sucking, twirling hair.
Another important concept linked with self-soothing is catharsis which is an experience of relief when the individual resorts to swearing, crying or aggressive acts in response to the stress. This is an integral concept of modern psychodynamic theories which claim that the expression of emotions, in general, brings relief (catharsis) vs inhibition of expression which may cause the development of various kind of somatic and mental health problems.
CRYING AND MOOD IMPROVEMENT
There are physiological and chemical parameters which confirm the correlation between crying and mood improvement. It includes the following:
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS system) – activation of PNS accompanies states of rest and restoration. Some theories point towards stressful events resulting in deactivation of the PNS system resulting in crying followed by an increase in the PNS system post tearful crying.
Blood clearance and detoxification – It was claimed that crying influences well being through elimination via tears of stress hormones like cortisol. It was later indeed confirmed when levels of cortisol in women sharply decreased post a crying episode.
Opioid release – Endogenous opioids or endorphins are natural painkillers released by the body post an episode of crying and cause a sense of numbing helping to endure the stress.
Oxytocin – In humans, oxytocin is known to decrease the amygdala(emotional center) activity in response to threatening social stimuli, increase calmness and general well-being, and to decrease anxiety and cortisol levels during socially stressful events.
Nerve growth factor release(NGF) – NGF, a protein responsible for the restoration of neural cells is found in the lacrimal glands, has shown to have mood-elevating effects in mammals and hypothesis of its effects on the trigeminal nerves via passing through nasal cavity from lacrimal gland during crying has been postulated.
Changes in cerebral blood supply – It postulates that negative emotions like crying lead to a decrease in cerebral blood flow leading to low emotional states.
Stereotypical behaviors – In humans, stereotypical movements such as body rocking or head bobbing seem to numb/distract the individual from a constant stimulus such as pain, helping achieve calmness.
CRYING AND OTHER ASSOCIATED BENEFITS
Helps in sleep – It has been proven that crying helps babies to sleep better. In the case of adults, it is hypothesized that the calming, mood-enhancing, and pain-relieving effects of crying may help them fall asleep faster.
Antibacterial property – Tears contain fluid called lysozyme which is a very powerful antimicrobial and has proven efficacy over even anthrax.
Improve vision – Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist, and crying completely cleanses the eyes as well as the eyelids.
So next time you are about to swell up with emotions due to that fight you had, or a sad movie you watched, go ahead and let go of the tears and let your emotions out because crying is good not only for the soul but also for the body and you would also have a scientific basis for that.