Why Crying Can Be Just the Release Your Body Needs
“Life is hard.” You’ve heard the phrase. You may have even said the phrase. And while it’s true, it is an oversimplification of what daily life can truly feel like, especially right now. The past few weeks have been heavy, to say the least, in a new and different way. Amid the COVID 19 pandemic, the ongoing fight for racial justice, and managing your own daily to-do’s, a lot of us find ourselves emotionally overwhelmed with no time or space to decompress. It’s as if our emotions are at full capacity — a water balloon ready to burst with the prick of a pin. Instead of allowing ourselves to empty by letting the water flow, we attempt to tape over the hole and try to move forward.
During this new era, people all over the world are looking for ways to cope while adjusting to what’s happening. A lot of us lean on common stress relievers - music, art, exercise, journaling, etc. - to ease some of our emotional discomforts and provide us a few moments of peace. With all of these wonderful options available, we tend to overlook a simple and sometimes more effective activity — a good cry.
Tears have gotten a bad wrap throughout the years. Did you ever cry at school and get teased? Did you cry in front of a loved one only for them to dismiss your feelings? Have you ever lost control of your cry only to be told to “stop being dramatic”? In some settings, crying is seen as immature or as a sign of weakness. This is a vulnerability that some cannot afford. As a result, they work hard to hold back their tears. It doesn’t mean they can’t feel. On the contrary, they feel very deeply, but don’t show it out of the false sense that their tears are a signal of fragility. They are unaware of the true benefits that can come from crying.
All crying, however, is not equal. Our bodies actually produce three types of tears: basal, reflex, and emotional. Basal tears are in our eyes to lubricate, nourish, and protect the cornea. They serve as a protective barrier that shields your eye from everyday dirt and debris. Cutting onions or being exposed to smoke activates reflex tears. When your eyes get irritated, reflex tears fill your eyes with water to release antibodies to fight off the bacteria from whatever is causing the irritation.
All crying is not equal. Our bodies actually produce three types of tears: basal, reflex, and emotional.
Finally, we get to emotional tears. These tears are evoked from feelings of joy, fear and most commonly, sadness. Although we may feel sad, setting our emotions free through crying could be what we need to begin to lift ourselves up. “Among the hormones released when you cry is Oxytocin - a hormone that helps alleviate both physical and mental pain,” said Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D., Chief Clinical Executive at JourneyPure. “If you don't cry, especially when facing a tremendous loss or trauma, you're probably holding those emotions in and not giving yourself a chance to feel better.”
Crying also releases endogenous opioids or endorphins, the same “happy hormone” that’s released when you exercise that leaves you with a feel-good feeling. Your tears also contain stress hormones so when you cry, your stress levels could decrease. Even though the problem isn’t gone, crying can lighten the way we feel about it.
"Crying can be an important part of mental health. It allows us to soothe ourselves, to self regulate,” said Dr. Sandi Curtis, certified music therapist. “Music can be a great way to elicit our emotions and to regulate them. Sometimes a good song to cry to followed by something more uplifting can be helpful."
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, a group of scientists from the Center for Interdisciplinary Music Research in Finland, discovered that there are three ways people tend to use music to manage negative emotions: solace, diversion, discharge.
"Crying can be an important part of mental health. It allows us to soothe ourselves, to self regulate,” -Dr. Sandi Curtis, certified music therapist
Solace, like the word itself, is when you’re sad and seek out music that makes you feel heard and less lonely. Diversion is when you choose music to distract you from your feelings.
To give in to your emotions and allow for release you’ll choose discharge. Discharge is when you find music to match your mood to help you go deeper into your emotions in order to facilitate release.
Writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion,” and that statement couldn’t be more true. Many artists, past and present, have used music to express their own feelings. And through their vulnerability, they have granted the rest of us a means of escape and reflection, and release. From Broadway hits like Les Miserables' “I Dreamed A Dream,” to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” there are an innumerable amount of songs across all genres that can evoke the strongest emotions.
Here are a few song suggestions to help lead you to a tearful release.
When you’re feeling sad and/or alone:
“I’m In Here” by Sia
“Anyone” by Demi Lovato
“U” by Kendrick Lamar
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
“Lithium” by Evanescence
“Mad World” by Gary Jules
“1-800-273-8255” by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid
“Nobody Knows” by P!nk
When you’re feeling hopeless:
“A Change Gone Come” by Sam Cooke
“Can’t Take That Away” by Mariah Carey
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Aretha Franklin (written by Simon & Garfunkle)
"Try" by Colbie Caillat
“The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
“Rise Up” by Andra Day
“Titanium” by David Guetta ft. Sia
“Glory” by Common and John Legend
When you’re feeling grief:
“Your Words” by Tori Kelly
“Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross
“Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton
“One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey ft. Boyz II Men
“Joanne” (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?) by Lady Gaga
“See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day
“Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran
When you’re feeling heartbroken:
“What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts
“If You’re Not the One” by Daniel Bedingfield
“Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill
“A Home” by Dixie Chicks
“Still In Love With You” by Sade
“We Can’t Be Friends” by R.L. and Deborah Cox
“Say Something” by A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera
“Someone Like You” by Adele
Never underestimate the impact of a few moments of tears. As with most things, moderation is key. If you begin crying and find yourself unable to stop, take the time to seek out professional help.
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Kit Stone is a multimedia storyteller and digital content creator. A native of California, she credits her love of all things creative to the influence of the Bay Area culture she grew up in, and the part her family, Sly & the Family Stone, played in shaping it. Since receiving her degree in visual storytelling and media production from Cal State East Bay, Kit has used her passion for storytelling to inspire, educate, and entertain. When she’s off the clock, you can find her curled up with a good book or watching episodes of "The Golden Girls."