Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does Crying Really Make You Feel Better?

crying emoticone
crying emoticone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Does Crying Really Make You Feel Better?

I have always believed that crying it out indeed made me feel better by way of some mythical hormone release.  I was certain of this until I went to write about it and found the research is to the contrary.

Let me back up.  My curiosity about the benefit of letting some tears fly reared its head after a recent minor but annoying eye surgery followed by complications that meant lots of discomfort.  

Simultaneously - while I was not supposed to do anything to aggravate my eye - crying included - (due to the skin graft) there were some major things happening, including our beloved dog getting extremely sick  (we thought we were going to lose him). 

As my husband spent two days at emergency vets with Sampson, I felt helpless at home with our two year old, and while she napped all I really wanted to do was, well, cry.  I felt mournful, recalling all of the times Sampson has been there for me, my loyal best friend, confidante, and even co-worker (when I've had home offices).  I was feeling guilty about how much less attention Sampson gets now that we have a  toddler, and how despite it all, his loyalty remains the same.  He loves me, he is my furry mama's boy and I feared that I might have to say goodbye to him much sooner than I could have expected.  

The tears started to come, but the pain was so excruciating, I had to force myself to stop them.  I poured a glass of wine and turned on a funny movie to avoid thinking about what I really wanted to focus on - Sampson.

There were other moments over these past weeks where I had the urge to let a tear flow, but every time a tear creeped up, my eye would burn intensely and I had to force the emotion to subside.

In those weeks where I had to suppress emotion (or at least the crying part of the emotion), I noticed my anxiety level gaining ground.  As a generally high energy, intense kind of human, I can get pretty anxious when not allowed an appropriate outlet (the gym and apparently, crying).  Then, this week, there was another moment of sadness that cropped up.  I was worried about someone very close to me, and I was alone in my car, some song came on and boom.  The tears came.  Only, this time it didn't burn.

I let them go, cried quietly under my sunglasses while I drove alone.  I got home, sat in the garage, continued to cry in the car alone.  

I felt depleted and just pure exhausted from the emotional tear flow.  The rest of the day was exhausting chasing around my adorable but high energy toddler, I felt so depleted that the anxiety seemed to have disappeared.  I know that my daughter noticed I had been crying, though I'm not sure how.  She stared into my eyes for a really long time (hours after I had cried) and seemed both confused and concerned.

I assured her mommy was fine, and I was.  While depleted of all energy, good and bad that night, by the next day I felt relief and peace with the issue that had brought me to tears.  

I had been needing to get those tears out and release that anxiety for many weeks, and it wasn't a reckless crazy throw yourself down kind of cry, it was quiet, peaceful, and very therapeutic.

It occurred to me that all those weeks I was unable to cry, it made me edgier because the emotions were all trapped in side.  For me, I felt that the act of crying, while exhausting me to the point of no emotion at all, was beneficial by the next morning.  I was renewed.

As I said in the beginning, I assumed this was as scientific fact, that studies had surely been done to prove the link between releasing tears and a positive hormonal release.  But, alas, the opposite is true - or at the very least - the appropriate studies have not been done to prove my personal theory.

As you can read for yourself, on this blog about the brain and behavior, that discusses a recent study on this issue, the writer concludes:

"Bylsma's headline finding is that crying mostly had little positive benefit, at least not on overall daily mood. Not only did crying episodes tend to be preceded by two days of lower daily mood, they were also associated with lower daily mood on the day of crying and lower daily mood on two successive days afterwards. For mood in the specific moments after a crying session, the results were more encouraging. Most often mood was reported as unchanged (60.8 per cent), but 30 per cent of sessions were associated with a positive mood change, with 8.8 per cent leading to a deterioration in mood."

It seems a little surprising, though at least 30% did associate a positive mood change moments after the crying occurred.  

I feel like many flaws could be found in the study and it is probably individual specific as everyone deals with stress, anxiety, fear, anger and sadness differently.  

For me, those several weeks without being able to release at least an anxiety tear, or even a sadness tear, added to my distress and overall mood.  I got the cry out, and now I feel even again.

Monkey Readers:  

Does a good cry make you feel better?

Do you Cry when you are sad, stressed, frustrated, or do you have other coping mechanisms?
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BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

Exercise seems to do more for me when I'm super stressed than crying, but sometimes tears just can't be avoided!

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