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Does Crying Help or Hurt Depression?

Tears. I liken them to numinous mist or emotional sign language.

“They’re considered a release, a psychological tonic, and to many a glimpse of something deeper: the heart’s own sign language, emotional perspiration from the well of common humanity,” writes Benedict Carey in his New York Times piece “The Muddled Track of All Those Tears.”

The Healing Property of Tears

Tears heal us in several ways. They remove toxins from our body that build up from stress, like the endorphin leucine-enkaphalin and prolactin, the hormone that causes aggression. They lower manganese levels — which triggers anxiety, nervousness, and aggression — and therefore elevate mood. Emotional tears contain more toxic byproducts than tears of irritation. In his article “The Miracle of Tears,” Dr. Jerry Bergman writes, “Suppressing tears increases stress levels, and contributes to diseases aggravated by stress, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and peptic ulcers.”

I’ve always been a crier. During deep depressions, a veritable Niagara Falls streams down my face. Tears help me release my emotions. Sometimes they express feelings that I am unable to articulate in word or in body language. As my heart’s translator, they tell stories that enlighten and embolden me.

Cry Carefully

Though cathartic and healing, crying isn’t always beneficial. If I weep whenever the instinct arises, tears can keep me stuck in a pattern of illness. I have to carefully assess the thoughts and beliefs that are generating the wetness. If they are attitudes hopelessness or futility, I have to be careful not to indulge in those feelings and resist reaching for the Kleenex.

My mixed assessment toward tears seems to be fairly typical among persons with chronic depression. Awhile back, I posed the questions to members of my depression community: “Does crying help? Does crying hurt?” Most said crying was a helpful release of emotions. They often felt much lighter after a session of tears. However, there were those that said once they started to cry, they had difficulty stopping. When the crying persists for days on end, they end up feeling worse.

To Cry or Not to Cry

The research on tears is conflicting, as you may guess.

The Journal of Research in Personality published a study in 2011 that found that shedding tears had no effect on mood for nearly two-thirds of women who kept daily journals. Jonathan Rottenberg, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, said, “Crying is not nearly as beneficial as people think it is. Only a minority of crying episodes were associated with mood improvement – against conventional wisdom.”

In another study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, researchers from the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands videotaped a group of participants while watching the films “Life Is Beautiful” and “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” The participants were assessed before, immediately afterward, and then 20 minutes and 90 minutes afterward.

Of the participants who cried during the films (approximately half), most claimed they felt worse immediately after. Twenty minutes later, those who cried said that their moods were the same as before they the film began. However, an hour and a half after the credits rolled, the criers were in better moods than before the movie. According to lead author Asmir Gračanin, “After the initial deterioration of mood following crying, it takes some time for the mood not only to recover but also to be lifted above the levels at which it had been before the emotional event.”

The researchers didn’t explain the reasons behind the mood change, but previous studies document the release of toxins through tears, as mentioned before, and also the release of feel-good endorphins.

Borders around Niagara Falls

I have decided to let myself wail, sob, and weep, but to erect borders around my Niagara Falls so that my outbursts don’t interfere with my daily responsibilities. Those boundaries include trying my best not to cry in front of my two kids, as I know my tears have been unsettling for them in the past. Whenever possible, I also try keep my crying sessions under a half hour.

American writer Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contribution and of unspeakable love.”

I believe that.

Tears are the purest expression of human emotion. They are our heart’s sign language. They connect us deeply to ourselves and to others. And they tell our story long before we are ready to share it.

Tears are loving messengers.

Tears are cleansing perspiration.

Tears are healing mist.

Reference

Carey, B. (2009, February 2). The Muddled Tracks of All Those Tears. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/health/03mind.html

Bergman, J. (1993). The Miracle of Tears. Retrieved from https://answersingenesis.org/human-body/the-miracle-of-tears/

Bylsmaa, L.M., Croon, M.A.,Vingerhoets, Ad.J.J.M.,Rottenberg, J. (2011). When and for whom does crying improve mood? A daily diary study of 1004 crying episodes Author links open overlay panel. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(4): 385-392. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656611000778

Melnick, M. (2011, August 1). Study: Crying won’t make you feel better. TIME. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/01/study-crying-wont-make-you-feel-better/

Springer. (2015, August 24). Crying has its perks: Effect of crying on one’s mood. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150824101829.htm

Does Crying Help or Hurt Depression?


Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at thereseborchard.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.


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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2019). Does Crying Help or Hurt Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/does-crying-help-or-hurt-depression/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Jan 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Jan 2019
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