When a dam is too full, it adds pressure to the walls holding the water in. That kind of chronic stress will eventually fracture the walls and can cause harm unless water is released to relieve it. Similarly, people can experience an overflow of emotions that can be eased by really feeling the emotion If you're feeling sad or frustrated, that is often accompanied by crying.
Trying to avoid crying, and by extension your negative emotions, often leads to us feeling worse, while crying often makes us feel better.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that teaches us crying is for babies. As an adult, you are seen as overly emotional if you shed tears for anything less than a life-changing crisis or injury. Men, in particular, are teased when they show any sign of emotion, trained from boyhood to hold everything in.
It’s hard to understand how this culture has evolved because crying has many health benefits.
The benefits of crying
Why do strong emotions make us cry? The simple answer is that it has a self-soothing effect, helping people relax back to their baseline level.
Crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, which help relieve pain if you’ve injured yourself and improve your mood if you’re sad.
This self-soothing might also be caused by the high amounts of stress hormones found in tears. It’s hypothesized (but currently needs more research) that crying is a way of physically flushing these toxins from your body, relieving stress.
In fact, there are more stress hormones present in tears cried due to sadness, anger, or any other negative emotion than found in tears cried as an automatic response to chopping onions. So if you're under enough stress that you start to tear up, try letting yourself cry, it will probably reduce stress and boost your mood and coping abilities with some feel-good chemicals.
In an effort to seem tough many of us hold back tears, but crying actually makes us better able to cope and helps us feel better.
Scientists are also finding that those who cry more regularly sleep better. This is most likely because when your mind is not racing with strong emotions, it can turn off and get some rest.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve felt overwhelmed with stress from school or work or life drama, I let myself have a good cry and this helps me feel more level-headed and get a better night’s sleep.
The downsides to holding back tears
A dam breaking open is a much more disastrous affair than a controlled release of water, and it’s no different with human emotions and crying.
For many, repressing tears can result in crying sessions regardless of all your effort to keep it in. Don’t be surprised to find yourself crying over something relatively minor, like a slight hiccough at work or a sweet puppy and kitten video. The build up of emotions has to get out some way or another and is often projected onto more innocuous events.
When this happens, you end up with the exact thing you may have been trying to avoid: people may see you as overly sensitive. This can have negative consequences in the workplace or in your personal life as people deemed overly sensitive at work typically have a harder time moving up the “corporate ladder,” being taken seriously, or being entrusted with delicate information.
For those who have mastered holding in tears, studies have found they often feel more stressed and get irritated more easily. This can often present itself as heightened aggression, particularly in men due to the culture surrounding men and violence. This can make them less pleasant to interact with and seriously affect their work and home life.
Let those tears flow
Suppressing the urge to cry is usually an attempt to suppress the emotions making you tear up. Holding onto without addressing those feelings is like holding still a body of water that should be flowing, turning it stagnant and rancid with bacteria.
To hold back tears is to hold on to the stress and the pain longer than necessary, giving these negative feelings a chance to grow and become stronger. They can turn you into a bitter, angry, or sad person. Let yourself experience the emotions, and then expel them through your tears. So next time you feel the urge to cry, open the floodgates.
Need to talk? We're here to listen.