Even though you’re a grown-up now, there’s still room in your life for a good cry here and there. Let’s be real: It’s been a seriously intense past year and a half. You may have shed more tears than you did in the past. That’s totally normal and there’s no shame in it. Puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks afterward could be unpleasant, but experts say there are actually quite a few benefits of crying.
For one thing, if you make a habit of not crying when you feel the urge, it can actually make you feel more stressed and upset than if you were to just let it out already, says Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio.
Why do we cry?
This may seem really obvious at first, but we actually cry for a few different reasons besides emotions. Your body produces three types of tears:
- Reflex tears: These are triggered when something is in your eye, explains Vivian Shibayama, an optometrist with UCLA Health. “They are produced to wash out anything that might irritate the eyes like smoke or debris,” she says. “They contain mostly water and may have antibodies to fight infection.”
- Basal tears: These tears, Shibayama says, are your “baseline” tears. “They are made of oil, water, and mucus,” she explains. “They keep your eyes happy, protected, and lubricated.”
- Emotional tears: These are the ones most people associate with crying—they’re triggered by emotions, Shibayama says. These tears are similar to reflex tears and are mostly made of water, she says. And, ya know, it just feels good when you shed them.
Is crying every day healthy?
There’s no hard and fast rule that says you can’t cry every day. On average, women cry emotional tears between 30 and 64 times a year (up to five times a month), according to the American Psychological Association.
It’s completely normal to cry every day if you’re grieving, says Craig Smith, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University. But if you’re simply crying just because, it could be a sign that something is off.
“If you are crying daily, accompanied by sustained feelings of either anxiety or depression, then this is a problem worthy of an evaluation with a mental health professional,” Dr. Saltz says.
That said, Dr. Saltz acknowledges that some people are easy criers and they cry when they are happy, moved, sad, touched, overwhelmed, basically any emotional intensity. “This is not a mental health problem,” she says. “This is a just being a person who feels emotions intensely and crying is often times part of an intense emotional response.”
15 Health Benefits Of Crying
Overall, letting it all out has plenty of perks for your physical and mental health.
1. It Keeps The Bad Stuff Out
Reflex tears are specially designed to help fight off things that could harm your eyes, Shibayama says. When you shed these tears, you’re actively working to keep out gunk that could cause your eyes to feel uncomfortable or even injure them.
2. It Helps You Shed Stress, Literally
Feeling overly frazzled can make you want to shed a few—and you should go right ahead. Older research has shown that shedding emotional tears can reduce your stress levels, making you feel good after. Emotional tears also have higher levels of stress hormones in them, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which means you literally get rid of stress as you cry.
3. It Keeps Dry Eye At Bay
Dry eye is a health condition where your body doesn’t make enough tears or the right type of tears, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Your body can actively work to prevent dry eye by creating basal tears, Shibayama says. Basal tears, she says, are “a natural shield” for your eyeballs.
4. It Gives Your Mood a Boost
You know how you feel better after you cry? There’s a reason for that. “Crying is an expression of intense emotion—and often the outward expression of an intense emotion as opposed to bottling it up inside does offer relief,” Dr. Saltz says. Result? Better mood.
5. It Washes Out The Gross Stuff
Reflex tears in particular are helpful for this, Shibayama says. “Reflex tears are our natural eye wash, flushing out irritants,” she explains. So, if you happen to get dust or an allergen in your eyeball, your tears flush it out.
6. It’s Cathartic
Some research has mentioned that emotional crying soothes your intense emotional state and prevents that energy from turning into mental health problems. And, it’s something you can do all on your own, so self-five.
7. It Brings You Closer To Others
In most situations, crying around someone will bond the two of you together. They realize you feel sad and try to do what they can to make you feel better—and, voila, you’re bonded. “Especially in cases of shared grieving or in the face of a shared disaster or other horrible event, communal crying can be an important way of bonding with others and establishing our shared humanity,” Smith says.
8. It Dulls Pain
Crying can cause your body to release hormones like oxytocin and endogenous opioids, which are naturally designed to ease pain. That’s also why you can feel numb sometimes after a big cry, Dr. Saltz says.
9. It Helps You Cope With Grief
Crying is a normal response to grief and it can be helpful, says Dr. Saltz. “Crying is the expression of grief and experiencing grief allows you to process it more fully,” Dr. Saltz says. Eventually, it can even help your grief decrease over time.
10. It Restores Emotional Balance
You usually have a baseline emotional state before you cry and then shedding emotional tears throws the whole thing out of whack. But crying can also help you get back to your usual emotional state, Smith says. “Sometimes people are so worked up–it may be in anger or frustration that they cry,” he says. But afterward, you feel normal again.
11. It’s A Way To Ask For Help Without Actually Asking
Research has found that people are willing to help those who cry because they perceive them as helpless in the moment. While some people don’t know how to react when they’re around people who cry, most will do their best to make you feel better and lend some support, Smith says.
12. It Puts Things Into Perspective
Ever feel like you can think a little more clearly after a crying sesh? It’s no coincidence. “Often, after having a good cry, things simply don’t seem so bad as they did before the crying bout,” Smith says.
13. It Can Be Motivating…After A While
Sure, you probably don’t feel like doing much of anything while you’re actually crying. But afterward you feel ready to move on. “The person may often feel better able to take on whatever was causing the crying in the first place,” Smith says.
14. It Releases Feel-Good Chemicals
Endorphins are chemicals produced by your brain that improve your sense of well-being. Research has found that crying actually causes your brain to release endorphins, helping you feel better afterward.
So, when is crying a problem?
It depends a lot on why you’re crying, Smith says. While crying can be therapeutic, “crying can become a problem if the person finds themselves crying so often, or so uncontrollably, that it starts to interfere in their ability to conduct their daily lives,” Smith says.
He adds that in these cases, especially if there is not a good external reason to explain the crying—such as someone dying or some other horrible thing happening—the crying could be a symptom of an underlying problem, such as that the person is deeply depressed about something. In these kind of situations, he says, it would be wise to seek professional help.