Like me, you’ve probably heard of the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” While emotionally compelling, its refrain, sung to fame by Madonna in the 1996 film Evita, actually does not strike a good chord with me. I, much to Eva Peron’s chagrin, would prefer to cry when I experience extreme grief or mourn the loss of someone special. Macho naysayers might frown upon this and urge me to wipe off the tears instead of embracing them. But the reality is that crying is perfectly natural and, as science would have it, shedding tears can actually be good for your health.
The average human can produce 30 gallons of tears a year. Tears help with lubrication, prevent irritants from damaging our eyes, and contain antibacterial properties. But their most significant role lies in the endocrine system. In an article published by Psychology Today, tear specialist and biochemist Dr. William Frey points out that tears shed from crying can release toxins that accumulate as a result of stress. The removal of toxins from our body helps reduce cortisol levels in the body, resulting in a lighter mood. Crying has also been shown to activate the production of endorphins, also known as the “happy hormones.”
Look back on the times that you cried. How did you feel afterward? If you’re like me and most people, you probably felt better and calmer. That’s because after crying, our breathing and heart rates decrease, many thanks to our parasympathetic nervous system. “Letting down one's guard and one's defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing,” Dr. Stephen Sideroff, a clinical psychologist at UCLA, said in a WebMD interview. Stress “tightens muscles and heightens tension, so when you cry you release some of that.”
Of course, there are some caveats to keep in mind. In a study by the University of South Florida and Tilburg University in the Netherlands, clinical psychologists found that participants who cried in the presence of a small group of people reported feelings of catharsis at higher rates than those who cried in the presence of a larger group. In other words, crying may only be beneficial for you if you do it in front of your closest friends as opposed to doing it in public. Additionally, there's the potential relationship between our upbringing and our reaction to crying. Judith Kay Nelson, author of Seeing Through Tears: Crying and Attachment, points out that people whose parents were attentive during their childhood find more satisfaction from crying than those whose parents were emotionally distant.
But what happens if you are a person who prefers not to turn on the waterworks? According to research, you might be putting your relationships in jeopardy. Cord Benecke, a professor at the University of Kassel in Germany, conducted a study where he interviewed over a hundred individuals and compared the group who embraced crying versus those who did not. He discovered that the latter group was more likely to isolate themselves from relationships and harbor negativity. People who weren’t open to crying “had a tendency to withdraw and described their relationships as less connected,” Benecke said in a Time article. “They also experienced more negative aggressive feelings, like rage, anger and disgust, than people who cried.”
It is worth noting that modern research on crying is still developing. However, all things considered, we should not ignore the suggested benefits crying provides to our health and well-being. If we keep negative emotions bottled up inside, we might find ourselves slowly suffocating from toxic feelings that should be unashamedly expressed and released out in the open. So next time you receive advice from someone, Madonna or otherwise, on why you shouldn’t cry, simply close your eyes and don’t be afraid to let go.