Crying is Healthy

It’s nature’s adaptive response to emotional stress

Peggy O'Mara

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There is nothing wrong with crying. A good cry, whether for a child or an adult, is a relief. The positive outcome of crying is a release of pent-up emotions and stress. The negative outcome of not crying, when crying is called for, is that suppressed tears can lead to suppressed emotions. When we experience extreme emotion but cannot release tension through crying, our feelings may overwhelm us, leading to depression and even despair.

Biochemist, William H. Frey II, author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, says,

It is difficult to feel very sad or hurt without crying, and we soon learn that it is easier not to cry if we do not allow ourselves to feel strongly in the first place. . . Individuals who learn to hide their emotions from others may eventually hide them so well that they no longer know what or how they feel.

The physiology of tears

Crying is more than an emotional release — tears may actually be necessary to rid the body of certain chemicals. Frey studied the chemical composition of tears, distinguishing between irritant tears (the kind that result when you cut an onion, for example) and emotional tears. He found that emotional tears contain a significantly higher concentration of detoxifying proteins than do irritant tears, and that they also contain endorphins that reduce pain sensation, as well as a hormone typically released in response to stress.

“Crying it out,” then, may be more than a figurative expression; it may be what literally happens as the body rids itself of stress-induced chemicals. Holding back tears, on the other hand, may inhibit the body’s ability to handle stress. Frey says,

When we teach children to suppress their feelings and not to cry, we do them a great disservice by robbing them of one of nature’s adaptive responses to emotional stress.

Crying is baby’s first language

While crying can be a healthy release for children and adults, it is even more important for babies because it is their only means of communicating — their only resource. As a baby’s range of communication becomes more sophisticated, she will cry less, but for now…

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Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist. She was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. Her focus is Family, Health, and Justice.