In today’s culture we are encouraged to “suck it up” and push forward when something doesn’t go our way or if something emotional happens. This is especially true for the males in our society. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that letting yourself have a good cry has many benefits, including reducing inflammation, recovering from stress, and could even help you live a longer healthier life.
Ok, Ok, maybe you shouldn’t be a blubbering mess huddled in a corner on a daily basis, but there are definitely good reasons to stop holding back your tears.
You may not know this, but emotions aren’t just silly things that are triggered in your brain that tell you to be mad at your husband for eating the last piece of cake. They are actually physical molecules.
According to Dr. Candace Pert’s work in Molecules of Emotion, these molecules can become trapped inside your body if they aren’t dealt with properly. As she puts it, “Emotions are E-nergy in MOTION”, and if they are not moving through the body they cannot be released properly.
Crying is a good way to release these pent-up emotions and the benefits go beyond general well-being and reducing inflammation.
You have probably heard about people going through stressful or emotional events and experiencing physical symptoms like hair loss, skin rashes, panic attacks, headaches, and stomach aches. This further illustrates that forgetting to deal with your emotions can have real physical consequences.
We will go deeper into all of the surprising benefits of crying and releasing emotions later, but first I want to talk about why these emotional molecules get stuck in the first place.
Un-Sticking Your Emotional Molecules
It is a fairly common view that if you set yourself up as the emotional rock for your family and friends that you are expected to not outwardly display your own emotions. Of course, the only people who actually believe this bologna are the emotional rocks themselves.
The truth is that those philosophers in R.E.M. had it right when they said “everybody hurts sometimes”. In fact, if you are the emotional anchor and what I’m saying about emotional suppression has struck a chord with you than you could be seriously negatively affecting your health in ways you might not be aware of.
Even if you aren’t the pillar that everyone seems to lean on, you could be suppressing emotions that need to be expressed. You might be pushing your feelings down and refusing to acknowledge their existence, keeping yourself distracted with work or worse numbing those feelings with alcohol or food.
This is especially dangerous for the emotional eater. Not sure if you’re an emotional eater? Take my quiz here
Suppressing your emotions by force is a bad strategy as well. Here’s an exercise to show you what I mean:
Don’t picture a purple elephant
What are you picturing?
If you’re like most people you can’t help but think of the purple elephant. This is true for anything that you’re trying to fight against. If you’re sad, angry, or depressed trying to suppress it by force will only make that feeling stronger.
A better strategy is to accept that you are feeling that emotion and give into it. If you have to cry, let it happen because beyond just feeling better it comes with a whole host of physical benefits as well.
The Surprising Benefits of Crying
Let’s first back up the things you probably already know. Japanese journal of psychology published a study showing a positive effect on “catharsis, positive attitude, and empathy with others” when crying in front of people. In fact, we are programmed to be have more empathy when we witness a crying face versus and non-crying face. (http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/22514903)
Perhaps a little more surprising is that even when crying alone, crying can be a soothing and cathartic process. When humans experience excessive emotional energy we have to release it in some way to prevent it from surfacing in psychological and physical destructive ways. It so happens crying is a perfect outlet for that release. (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502/full)
But nothing is surprising as the link between letting your tears flow and everything from inflammation, to mortality rate.
Inflammatory cytokines are released in tears so that inflammation is reduced when you cry. These cytokines may also carry benefits, like prevention of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders like atherosclerosis, and help you to handle stress better.
One study showed an increase in overall wellness, cardiovascular, and even cancer mortality over a twelve year period. That is to say keeping in your emotions in the long term could put you in the grave prematurely. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399913003036)
What good is being the stoic emotional rock if it turns out your friends and family lose you sooner because of it?
Not to mention holding back tears around our loved ones creates mental and emotional barriers between ourselves and others. Whether you realize it or not you are in effect walling yourself off into a feeling of isolation. This isolation as you may be able to guess also has negative psychological effects like increased anxiety and depression.
We all have daily responsibilities, and people who rely on us for support. We also have to understand that we have to take care of ourselves too because like it or not, all humans are emotional and social creatures.
There are serious negative consequences to ignoring your emotional and physical health. You may have physical symptoms like rashes and hair loss. It would be a waste of time and money to treat these symptoms because you are just looking at the superficial side-effects of an underlying condition.
Next time you feel a burst of emotion, whether it be anger, sadness, nervousness, or happiness just let it all out. If those around you don’t understand just explain the benefits of letting your emotions out, and if all else fails just show them this article. After all, it could help you live a healthier, less stressed, and longer life.