Crying is a natural response humans have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, and frustration. But does crying have any health benefits?
It is not unusual to cry, and both sexes cry more than people may assume. In the United States, women cry an average of 3.5 times per month and men cry an average of 1.9 times a month.
Interestingly, humans are the only animals to cry tears. This article explores why we cry and what health benefits crying may have.
Why do people cry?
Humans produce three types of tears:
- Basal: The tear ducts constantly secrete basal tears, which are a protein-rich antibacterial liquid that help to keep the eyes moist every time a person blinks.
- Reflex: These are tears triggered by irritants such as wind, smoke, or onions. They are released to flush out these irritants and protect the eye.
- Emotional: Humans shed tears in response to a range of emotions. These tears contain a higher level of stress hormones than other types of tears.
When people talk about crying, they are usually referring to emotional tears.
Benefits of crying
People may try to suppress tears if they see them as a sign of weakness, but science suggests that doing so could mean missing out on a range of benefits. Researchers have found that crying:
1. Has a soothing effect
Self-soothing is when people:
- regulate their own emotions
- calm themselves
- reduce their own distress
A 2014 study found that crying may have a direct, self-soothing effect on people. The study explained how crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax.
2. Gets support from others
As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them.
As this 2016 study explains, crying is primarily an attachment behavior, as it rallies support from the people around us. This is known as an interpersonal or social benefit.
3. Helps to relieve pain
Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins.
These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.
4. Enhances mood
Crying may help lift people’s spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as “feel good” chemicals.
5. Releases toxins and relieves stress
When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals.
Researchers believe that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which could, in turn, reduce stress. More research is needed into this area, however, to confirm this.
6. Aids sleep
A small study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be researched.
However, it follows that the calming, mood-enhancing, and pain-relieving effects of crying above may help a person fall asleep more easily.
7. Fights bacteria
Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme.
A 2011 study found that lysozyme had such powerful antimicrobial properties that it could even help to reduce risks presented by bioterror agents, such as anthrax.
8. Improves vision
Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out.
As the US National Eye Institute explains, the lubricating effect of basal tears helps people to see more clearly. When the membranes dry out, vision can become blurry.
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