The importance of a good cry

Crying is the body’s natural way to relieve stress and keep you healthy. Liezl Heyman explains how a good cry does wonders for your body.

“I’ll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I’ve got my pride and I know how to hide
All my sorrow and pain
I’ll do my crying in the rain”

We all know the famous 80s song Crying in the rain from A-ha. Truth is, it was and still is such a well-loved song because it’s something we all do as adults. As babies and young children, we cried in abundance for everything from a scraped knee to a broken heart. Now we cry in the rain or shower; or even worse hold our tears in, hiding our deepest emotions because of our pride. 

Why don’t we cry? It’s socially unacceptable of course. Particularly at work or in public. It’s seen as a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. What we don’t realise is that in holding back our tears, we are doing ourselves a terrible disservice.

Three types of tears and their functions

As humans, our bodies produce three different types of tears, each with a valid scientific purpose.

Basal tears: A protein-rich antibacterial liquid constantly secreted by the tear ducts that keep our eyes moist every time we blink.

Reflex tears: Triggered by irritants (wind, smoke, onions or something touching the eye’s surface). They flush out irritants and protect our eyes.

Emotional tears: Shed in response to a range of emotions. They contain higher levels of stress hormones as well as more mood-regulating manganese than other types of tears. Scientifically humans are the only living organisms who produce emotional tears.

The benefits of crying

Research has shown that stress causes the muscles in your body to involuntarily tense and heightens tension. Crying emotional tears releases some of that tension since it activates the parasympathetic nervous system thereby easing strained muscles, making you feel physically and emotionally better.

Crying is the body’s natural way to relieve stress and keep us healthy. 

If we don’t cry emotional tears, the negative physical effects on our bodies can be devastating, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other stress-related disorders. Research has proven that 85% of women and 73% of men feel less sad and angry after a good cry.

So, what exactly will a good cry do for you apart from relieving stress?

  • Blood pressure and pulse rate immediately lowers after a good cry, lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as a stroke.
  • Tears lower the levels of toxins in the body, such as cortisol (a stress hormone) and manganese (a mineral affecting mood) that build-up when we are sad, angry or aggravated. 
  • Emotional tears release oxytocin and endorphins which not only is known as feel-good chemicals but also eases physical and emotional pain.
  • Crying has a self-soothing effect by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to regulate our own emotions, calm ourselves and lessen our own distress.
  • The act of crying can draw individuals closer to one another, thereby performing an important social function. It gets us the needed sympathy and support from those around us.
  • Crying destroys bacteria and keeps the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme.
  • Crying can be a warning sign of an underlying mood disorder or depression. If you can’t stop yourself from crying, or cry more than usual, talk to your doctor. 

Don’t hold back

Go ahead, cry to your heart’s content and don’t hold back. Life is an amazing journey that at times can turn into a tough, tumultuous ordeal. Don’t make yourself suffer more than you need to. Cry where you feel most comfortable; whether it be in the rain, shower or surrounded by friends and loved ones. It’s good for you and oh so healthy.

Liezl Heyman is the case manager, accounts clerk and research data manager at the Medical Oncology Centre of Rosebank. She has a master’s degree in social work and is currently doing her BSc Hons in immunology.

MEET THE EXPERT – Liezl Heyman

Liezl Heyman is the case manager, accounts clerk and research data manager at the Medical Oncology Centre of Rosebank. She has a master’s degree in social work and recently completed her BSc Hons in immunology, making her an immunologist.

Header image by Freepik