Go ahead, have a good cry. Far from a sign of weakness or source of shame, psychologists say giving in to your tears is an important coping mechanism and a form of mental hygiene.
“Crying can be an important way to communicate and connect with others,” says Daniel Coletti, a clinical psychologist at Northwell Health’s Division of General Internal Medicine in Great Neck, New York.
Here, a few more specific reasons to let tears flow.
1. You’ll actually feel better afterward
Shannon O’Neill, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Mount Sinai in New York, says crying is a sign that you need to pay attention to something your body is reacting to. Doing that, she says, allows you to acknowledge emotions you may or may not have fully recognized.
Leo Newhouse, senior social worker in neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, similarly says that once you allow yourself to read the body's signal that something is significantly bothering you, you're better able to accept what you're feeling and work toward a sense of calm.
Crying can also make you feel better in the short term, thanks to how it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a kind of internal regulator of how our body spends energy. The PNS is often referred to as the “rest and digest” state. “Once crying activates the PNS, you’ll begin to feel calm,” O’Neill says.
Psychologists also say that being unable to cry can be its own problem. Natalie Dattilo, director of psychology in the department of psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says being blocked or numb this way can indicate you’re not in touch with your emotions or, possibly, clinically depressed.
2. You’ll lessen your stress
Along with activating the parasympathetic nervous system, crying kicks off other physiological responses that can improve your well-being. When you’re under pressure, Dattilo says, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Allowed to build up over time, cortisol can become physically harmful. But after you’ve had that cry, cortisol levels decrease and your body releases other hormones that can act as a sedative, creating a sense of calm.