First of all, crying is part of what makes us human. While all mammals have tear ducts that produce moisture to lubricate the eye and keep it clean, only humans produce tears that leave their eyes and roll down their faces when they are feeling sad. Tears are part of who we are.
But does shedding tears have a useful function or is it just an evolutionary dead end that is intriguing but doesn’t really matter? Is Crying Good for us?
In fact, crying because of stress and upset is a healthy, normal response that fills several very useful roles.
While all mammals experience emotions such as anger, contentment, and fear, no other mammal has such a complex and nuanced palate of emotions as we do. It makes sense for our physiological and psychological responses to stress to be complex and nuanced, too—and crying is an important aspect of that.
We can see crying as a sort of pressure valve. Prolonged emotional stress can have a serious impact on our health, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, headaches, ulcers, and many other conditions. When we cry, we reduce the level of tension associated with stress. Most people find that they are less tense and angry after crying in response to stress. Long-term, if we are suffering from chronic stress, we need to remove or ameliorate the source of stress. In the short-term, however, crying in response to stress helps to reduce its negative impact on us. While stress can cause our blood pressure and pulse rate to soar, crying and “letting it all out” helps to lower them, reducing the risk of conditions related to high blood pressure such as strokes. It even helps us to eliminate excess levels of cortisol from our body. Cortisol is a hormone that we secrete when we are stressed. It is important to have cortisol in times of emergency, but in the long term, high levels of cortisol can contribute to a range of dangerous health conditions.
Crying is also an important communication tool. Of course, we humans have developed complex language skills—but a huge percentage of our communication is still non-verbal. We communicate with gestures, body language, sounds, and behaviours such as crying. When we cry, we are communicating our feelings of sorrow and distress to the people around us—as they do to us. In this way, we can communicate the strength of our feelings about relationships (for instance, by showing how sad we are when a loved one passes away) and invite others to express sympathy. By showing our emotions to others, and reacting positively to the emotions expressed by others, we are able to draw closer to one another.
Sometimes, it’s good to cry.
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