Do we need to cry to be healthy?
When it comes to health, we often talk about diet and exercise and sleep, stress and supplements, but we don’t often talk about tears: The importance (or perhaps unimportance?) of crying.
How often do you cry?
According to this comprehensive study, the average American woman cries 3.5 times a month, while the average man sheds a tear 1.9 times a month.
So for those of you who wonder if you cry too much, if you’re having a good cry one to three times a month, rest assured, you’re totally normal (apparently).
Obviously, there are many reasons people cry, but one big one is to release emotional tension, something only mammals are believed to do.
Not only does crying relieve stress, it can also help lower blood pressure and remove toxins from the body.
When you’re stressed, chemicals build up in your system, and crying helps expel them from the body. And, of course, after a good cry, you often feel better, which is only good for your mental health and happiness.
When it comes to crying, I think it’s important to look at how the frequency of our tears tends to decline as we age.
Apparently, the amount we cry peaks when we’re 6 weeks old. Then it starts leveling out before dramatically dropping off when we reach the age of two, and then continues to decrease as we get older.
It’s pretty clear that babies and toddlers cry the most, and it’s also pretty obvious that babies and toddlers are generally both physically and emotionally healthier than most adults.
Physically, three-year-olds move through the world with ease as if it were a giant obstacle course
Meanwhile, most adults feel overwhelmed and scared at the thought of jumping on a box or going across monkey bars.
Toddlers’ level of mobility and joint health puts most adults’ to shame!
Not only are toddlers physically healthy, they’re also the happiest among the humans, I would argue.
They haven’t been scarred or traumatized yet by the world, so their level of happiness is most definitely higher than the average adult I know.
Tears are often associated with sadness, yet the people I would argue are the happiest cry the most.
Does this mean tears are necessary to maintain happiness? Do happy adults cry more than unhappy adults?
It’s worth looking at what the experts say….
In the field of psychology, there’s an entire field of researchers devoted to studying the psychology of tears, and more specifically to gender and tears.
As noted above, women cry more than men.
Another study done by biochemist William H. Frey in 1980 found that women cry 5.3 times a month, whereas men cry 1.3 times.
Obviously, those specific numbers are slightly different than the other study I noted above, but regardless of the specific number, it’s pretty clear that women cry more than men.
The obvious answer is that men have been socialized to believe crying makes them weak, so they have trained themselves to hold their tears back.
While that certainly plays a role, it likely goes beyond that.
Science suggests testosterone may inhibit crying, while the hormone prolactin, which women have more of, might promote it.
So maybe it’s perfectly normal that men cry less than women, and not to be worried about?
Another angle comes down to attachment styles.
Research from Tilburg University argues that people with more dismissive attachment styles, and those who tend to avoid close relationships with others, are less likely to cry, than those who have stronger connections in their lives.
This makes sense to me and plays into the theory that happier people are more able to cry.
Human connection is known to be a huge influence on our happiness
So if you’re well connected with other people, maybe you’re more likely to feel secure enough to cry, and then crying circles back to help keep you happy?
Just a theory…
All tears are not equal?
There’s a common belief that a “good cry” is necessary and cathartic, but according to Frey, not all tears have the ability to soothe and make you feel better.
More specifically, crying without an emotional reason isn’t the cathartic cleanse we might have thought.
This is because emotional tears have more protein in them than non-emotional tears (for example, from chopping an onion).
So if you’re worried you don’t cry enough or have seemingly lost the ability to cry, the answer probably isn’t to sit in a dark room alone and attempt to force a tear for no reason.
Further, another study done using female students found that only 30 percent of students said their moods improved after crying
While 60 percent reported no change and 9 percent said they felt worse after crying.
This research, conducted by Lauren Bylsma at the University of Pittsburgh, led to the hypothesis that why you cry, and who sees you doing it, might make all the difference in whether or not it has a positive effect on your well-being.
She suggests that crying is more likely to feel better when the person has emotional support nearby, or if crying led to a resolution or increased understanding of the situation that made them cry.
On the other hand, if the person doesn’t have support around them, or feels ashamed or embarrassed by their tears, they will often feel worse.
So what do you think? For sound emotional health and happiness, is it necessary that we all cry? Or is the idea of a “good cry” overrated and not needed by all?