Crying can help you release some emotional pain. But does it help you feel better when you live with depression?
Sudden and frequent crying can be a symptom of depression for some people.
On its own, crying may result from experiencing many emotions, from joy to grief. But as part of depression, crying can occur without an apparent reason.
Why do people cry? And does it help to let it all out if you’re living with depression?
In general, experts believe expressing your emotional crying can be a good thing for you.
Much like other natural bodily reflexes like yawning or sneezing, crying may provide a physical feeling of satisfaction or relief when you let it happen rather than trying to suppress it.
Everyone is different, but for some people, having a good cry can provide a sense of release that leaves them feeling lighter and calmer, says Dr. Gauri Khurana, MPH, a psychiatrist in New York City and a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.
“Crying is often viewed as cathartic, meaning it helps release feelings of stress and helps modulate chemicals in the body, such as decreasing the cortisol and increasing oxytocin and endorphins, and makes people feel better,” Khurana says.
“Studies have shown that it doesn’t always help people feel better,” she notes, “but in my clinical experience, it does soothe people when they are in a heightened state of mood.”
This is because crying likely leads to a chemical reset, even though the cause of someone’s crying has likely not changed, Khurana says.
Some experts believe that the significance of emotional tears is rooted more in their effect on others. That is, shedding emotional tears stimulates caregiving and protective responses from significant others.
Crying may also facilitate social bonding and reduce interpersonal aggression.
Benefits of crying for depression
According to Khurana, some scholars have thought that crying might release stress hormones like cortisol that accumulate in the body. They believe that after crying, people generally feel better.
The same study showed that crying could also improve your mood due to the emotional release and reduced feelings of stress that it can bring.
“I have had many patients say, ‘You did your job because I cried,’ or ‘this is the first time that I have cried in a very long time,’” Khurana says. “And I have found that it often makes patients slow down and take stock of the range of emotions that they are feeling about whatever they are talking about.”
Why do we cry?
The biological purpose of crying has been the subject of thought and theories for a long time — from the 3rd century to modern times.
For instance, the Cappadocian bishop Gregory of Nyssa stipulated in his 3rd century “Notations on the Making of Man” that crying produced water vapor to cool itself down. This vapor would rise to the head, condense near the eyes, and escape as tears.
In 1662, Danish scientist Niels Stensen theorized that tears were simply a way to keep the eyes lubricated. And in 1983, biochemist William Frey stated that crying removed toxic chemicals from the blood that build up during times of stress.
However, modern theories center on tears as instruments of social bonding and human connection, Khurana says.
Even as people grow older and more capable physically and emotionally, we still experience bouts of intense emotions. From fear and sadness to excitement and pleasure, crying can be a way we respond to these heightened feelings.
“We cry to express a range of emotions, not just sadness — joy, pain, anger, love,” Khurana says. “And just about everything else on the spectrum of human emotion can be a cause for tears.”
She adds: “It takes a bit of understanding after the episode to often understand why someone was crying and what came up for them emotionally.”
Crying for no apparent reason can also be a sign of depression, Khurana says.
Crying generally accompanies mild depression and can present as:
- crying for no reason
- crying daily
- crying more often than typical
- having trouble stopping crying
“In more severe cases of depression, people often do not cry at all,” Khurana says. “I have also thought that when people cry for seemingly ‘no reason,’ it is because they have suppressed their emotions and something can no longer be contained.”
Some other signs and symptoms of depression include:
- persistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness, helplessness, or emptiness
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- loss of interest in hobbies and activities that normally bring you pleasure
- fatigue or decreased energy
- feeling restless or difficulty sitting still
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping, or waking up and oversleeping
- appetite and/or weight changes
- physical aches and pains without a clear cause and that don’t respond to treatment
- thoughts of suicide
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone
You can access free support right away with these resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
- Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
- Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
Crying can provide a release for the emotions you may be experiencing. From sadness and depression to joy and excitement, crying can be a way to cope with heightened feelings.
In general, crying shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Experts say crying can be a good thing for you.
However, crying for no reason or an increased frequency of crying coupled with depression symptoms can sometimes be a symptom of depression.
It may help to talk with a mental health professional if you’re experiencing more symptoms of depression, such as:
- body aches
- difficulty concentrating
If you’re looking for a therapist but unsure where to start, Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.