by Dr. Belisa Vranich
You walk through the door after a long, exhausting day in what's been a long, exhausting month and suddenly an urge comes over you. You feel the tears welling. You can practically sense the sobs and shakes on the horizon, and you know that—if you give in—you'll be in the midst of a crying fit. Go for it: It could be the best thing you do all day, and it’s as important as having bright colored veggies in your diet and getting enough Vitamin D.
Anthropological and social research on tears has found that college football players who cry are more likely to have a mental edge on and off the field, and men’s response to women’s tears is decreased testosterone (and hence, libido) and increased prolactin (and hence, response to nurture and bond). For both genders, laughing can substitute crying in a pinch.
While animal behaviorists assure animals like elephants and dolphins cry as well, part of the reason we humans want to bawl so often is that waterworks are not only about physical discomfort or sadness. Especially for women, tears can mean frustration and anger. When animals get cornered, they can either run or attack; we get to do neither as often as we’d like. Adrenaline, ramped in your body because of a confrontation or daily micro-insults at work, wreaks havoc on your body.
You don’t have to cry buckets of tears to calm the chemical cauldron in your body. Letting one poignant drop out may be enough. Emotional tears are hormone-laden, which slows your breath to a calmer one.
So if it feels so good, why don’t we do it more often? Smudged mascara and red nose top the explanations, funny enough. Then there is a small group of folks who actually feel worse after, which research says could signal ongoing untreated depressive or anxiety disorder. Crying easily and often can also be a symptom of a more chronic emotional problem. And when sobbing doesn’t lead to relief or if you haven’t cried in a long time—and actually sense dread at what “opening that box of worms” may entail—you should ask your doctor about your emotional woes.
But if it’s just a good ol’ cry you’re looking for, let it out. It can help.