Catharsis and Social Connection.
Crying is associated with a variety of emotions including grief, despair, frustration, helplessness, happiness, anger, and empathy. One research study examined how tears are important in “affective communication,” a process of expression that is important in the development and maintenance of social relationships (1).
We may more deeply connect with those around us when we shed tears with them. Crying has also been shown to be very cathartic with psychological and therapeutic benefits as it can elicit empathy and social supportiveness from others (2). Crying has been shown to have many stress relieving and mood enhancing benefits (3).
Biologically, crying has been shown to “blow off steam,” allowing for the release of stored up energy and emotions that may do damage if contained for too long (4). Inflammatory cytokines are released in tears and those who cry are able to better manage psychological stress (5). One research study showed that people with autoimmune disease who regularly cry have reduced symptoms of their diseases (6). “Those with better control over rheumatoid arthritis were more easily moved to tears…suppressing the influence of stress and therefore the buildup” (7).
Emotional expression extends life expectancy.
In general, those who express their emotions tend to live longer. When emotional suppression builds up, it can cause an increased risk of premature death, including death from cancer (8). Additionally, when we suppress our emotions, we can create “walls” between ourselves and those around us (9). This can cause strain on our interpersonal relationships because after all, emotional suppression is essentially being inauthentic and dishonest about how we feel. Over the long-term this can often lead to negative thought patterns and feelings of alienation and isolation (10). Several research studies have shown that those with stronger interpersonal bonds have longer life expectancies.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions – whether positive or negative – don’t fervently try to hold them back. Consider listening to what your body needs and honoring the feelings that are coming forth. Allowing the free flow of tears may be just what your mind and body need for optimal health.