5 Reasons Crying Is Good for You
Your tears can help you in surprising ways
(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
There are three kinds of tears: reflexive (clears out irritants), continuous (keeps eyes lubricated) and emotional (responding to joy and sadness). Did you know that humans are the only animals who can do the third one? This fact has led many scientists to ask why. If evolutionary changes are based on improving survival, what about emotional crying is beneficial? The answer is: quite a bit.
Why Crying Is Good for You
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Crying actually improves your mood
A recent Netherlands study showed participants really sad movies and then noted who cried and who didn’t. Those who didn’t felt no different emotionally after the movie, while the criers felt worse. However, within 20 minutes, the criers returned to pre-movie levels, and after 90 minutes, the criers felt much better than their stoic counterparts. “This pattern is often found in retrospective studies where people are asked to rate their mood levels after having experienced a good cry,” said lead author Asmir Gracanin of the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands.
Crying helps relieve stress
William H. Frey II, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Minnesota and co-director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul also made his study participants cry by showing sad movies. His theory was that we feel better after crying because it removes chemicals that build up during stress. “We don’t know what those chemicals are, but we do know that tears contain ACTH, which is known to be increased in stress. We don’t know if they are increased in tears,” reports Frey.
Frey continues, “It’s important that we evolved this ability. If you can alleviate stress, you can prevent stress damage to the heart and brain and improve long-term survival. We shouldn’t be conditioning young children not to cry; we should be happy that they have the ability.”
Tears cleanse and protect the eye
Non-emotional crying has health benefits, too. You know how you tear up when you're chopping onions? A chemical from the onion is released, hits the surface of the eye and creates sulphuric acid. In order to get rid of it, your tear glands produce a lot of tears to wash the chemical out of the eye. Tears also contain lysozyme, which is both antibacterial and antiviral, and glucose, which nourishes the cells on the surface of the eye and inside the eyelids.
Tears also help our nose
Tears travel internally through the tear duct to the nasal passages, where they encounter mucus. When enough tears mix with the mucus, it loosens and is shed, keeping the nose moist and bacteria free, says psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom.
Big boys do (and should) cry
Frey discovered that women cry an average of 5.3 times a month, while men cry an average of 1.3 times per month. Part of that discrepancy is because testosterone (higher in men) may inhibit crying, while the hormone prolactin (higher in women) may encourage it. Frey reports also that tear glands between men and women are anatomically different. But a major part of the stoic male can be laid at the door of gender and cultural norms, which generally leave men out of the loop in reaping crying benefits. “Try to let go of outmoded, untrue conceptions about crying. It is good to cry, it is healthy to cry, and that’s true for all sexes,” urges Orloff.
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