Crying improves mood
Although you may think that crying would make you feel better if it means relieving your stress — and it sometimes does. “In studies, about two-thirds of people report feeling generally better after crying,” says Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida. “However, it’s likely that people overreport or misremember these benefits of crying because when we elicit crying in a controlled lab setting, it’s not as clear that crying makes people feel better. So yes, crying helps our mood — just less.” than we often think.”
And how others respond to our crying is one of the most important factors determining how we feel afterwards, according to world-renowned crying expert Ad Vingerhoets, PhD, author of Why only people cry and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. “If they respond with understanding and help, you’re much more likely to feel better than if they ridicule and embarrass you,” says Dr. Finger cover. “So in many cases, the better mood after crying is the result of receiving emotional support and comfort.”
Crying sometimes makes you feel worse
Crying in the wrong place at the wrong time, or around people who react negatively to your crying, can definitely make you feel worse. “Crying at home or with supportive friends is healthy, but crying at work may be considered inappropriate,” says psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. In addition, while crying can make us feel better in the long run, studies show that the immediate effects of crying can actually make our mood worse. “In a lab study of people watching a sad movie, it takes time for people to feel better after they cry,” says Dr. Finger cover. “Immediately after a sad movie, the participants reported a worse mood, but 20 minutes and especially 90 minutes later, they reported a better mood than before the movie.” So it can take a while for the mood-elevating effects of crying to kick in.
Crying improves communication
Not surprisingly, crying in humans first developed as a way for a baby to get its mother’s attention. “Human babies are the most helpless creatures — they can’t cling to fur like other primates, or follow their mother like ducks,” says Dr. Finger cover. Tears from babies and children add a visual component to this cry for help, targeting a specific caregiver who can see them. As adults, humans have adapted this biological function to an emotional one. “Adult tears, such as crying vocally, mainly convey the message, ‘I need you, help me!'” says Dr. Finger cover. “It’s primarily a response to a state of helplessness, which is the opposite of fight or flight.”