What happens before, during and after crying?
Touching movies, stressful events at home or work, and even good news like a wedding or a baby might bring on the waterworks. Sometimes, you just need to let the tears flow. But you might not know that crying can have a big effect on your body and mind – here’s how.
Crying relieves stress
Humans are the only species to weep from emotions, but scientists still don’t know exactly how the physical act of crying is connected to our feelings. Why do we cry when we’re sad (and sometimes happy)? One of the benefits of blubbering may be that it helps relieve the physical tension of feeling upset. “It seems that crying begins just after the peak of physiological arousal as sympathetic activity starts to decrease and parasympathetic activity increases, helping to bring the body back to homeostasis,” says assistant professor of psychiatry, Dr Lauren Bylsma. In other words, crying occurs as our body returns from an aroused, “fight or flight” state to a calm, “rest and digest” state.
Crying boosts mood
You might think that crying would make you feel better if it means your stress is relieved – and it does, sometimes. “In surveys about two-thirds of people generally report feeling better after crying,” says professor of psychology, Dr Jonathon Rottenberg. “It’s likely that people are overreporting or misremembering these benefits of crying, however, because when we elicit crying in a controlled laboratory setting, it’s not as clear that crying makes people feel better. So yes, crying helps our mood – just less than we commonly believe.”
And how others react to our crying is one of the most important factors in determining how we feel afterward, according to world-renowned crying expert Dr Vingerhoets. “If they react with understanding and succour, it is much more likely that you’ll feel better than if they ridicule you and you feel embarrassment,” Dr Vingerhoets says. “In many cases, the better mood after having cried is thus the consequence of receiving emotional support and comfort.”