Does Crying Relieve Stress?

Published on: 10 Jun 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Cynthia V. Catchings LCSW-S
woman crying and hugging man

Frequent crying during times of extreme stress and anxiety is common. Believe it or not, it can also be a very good thing. Shedding tears can be beneficial on many fronts, and not just for relieving stress. 

You might be surprised to learn that crying also helps to detoxify the body, ease pain, and restore emotional balance. Read on to learn more about why and how crying for stress relief can be effective and healthy. 

How Does Crying Relieve Stress?

One of the interesting things about tears is that there are different types, each composed of different elements. For example, tears that the body produces when you cut onions, or when you’re in a smoky environment, are made up of around 98 percent water. Most of us don’t realize that tears from stress are vastly different. 

Are you wondering what does crying release? Emotional tears contain stress hormones and other chemicals, so shedding tears as a response to stress, or any other emotion, can help us let go of them. Research shows that there are even more benefits to crying, too.

“It’s important to relieve stress in healthy ways. Everyone has a different way to work through their stress. Some individuals find that crying helps them relieve some of the stress they’re struggling with at the moment. Crying allows those emotions to come out and lets our body release the tension that has built within us.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

The Many Benefits of Crying for Stress Relief

A good cry can be a great way to lower your stress level. Nobody has a perfect, stress-free life all of the time. It’s how we manage and react to that stress that can make a difference. Stress relief is just one of several benefits we can gain from indulging in a few minutes of weeping.

“There’s nothing wrong with a good cry to help release all the stress we hold inside. Just remember to hydrate after.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

1. Relieving stress

We’ve already established that crying can ease stress. Those emotional tears falling (as opposed to tears caused by environmental factors) contain higher levels of protein, manganese, and other stress hormones and chemicals. 

By crying for stress relief, you’re allowing your body to get rid of these compounds. Yes, more research is still needed, but for now we do know that crying can release chemicals in the body that may contribute to lowering your stress level. 

2. Pain relief

Crying for an extended period of time allows the body to release hormones thought to naturally ease pain. What does crying release that can reduce pain? 

Mainly, we’ve found tears can release oxytocin and endorphins that naturally ease physical pain as well as emotional pain. Endorphins do more than just cause pleasure — turns out, they can block pain, too. Oxytocin gives you a sense of well-being and calm.

3. Process grief 

Grief is a tricky emotion. It can cloud judgment and make simple tasks seem impossible, and it involves a range of feelings that consume us, often for long periods of time. The truth is, crying can help you process your grief and accept loss in life. Ultimately, your tears can help you move through the stages of grief and heal

4. Restore emotional balance

Research shows that crying can help bring your emotional equilibrium back into balance. This can be in response to more than just things that make you sad, too. It’s common to cry when you’re excited, scared, happy, or even in times of extreme stress. Crying might help you recover from an intense emotion you experience.  

5. Lift your mood

Does crying relieve stress? Yes, but that’s not all. It can also help to lift your mood, according to some studies

It’s normal to sometimes feel like your emotions are all over the map when you go through the ups and downs of life. Crying can help improve your mood, so you’re in a better place emotionally to tackle every intense feeling you experience throughout the day.

6. Fight bacteria

Believe it or not, a good cry can even help express bacteria from the eyes. A study by researchers at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas found that tears contain a substance called lysozyme, which has powerful antimicrobial properties. 

Emotional crying has an undeserved bad reputation. There’s no reason for you to keep wondering, does crying relieve stress? As we’ve shown here, the answer is yes. So if you are wanting to know how to calm down when stressed, crying can not only improve your mood, but it can also help get rid of stress, process grief, ease pain, restore emotional balance, and even detoxify the body. What better gift could you give yourself?

Even with the research behind it, too much crying may not be a good thing. If you’ve found that you’re crying more days than not, or that your tears are interfering with your ability to function every day, something more than a good release might be going on. Learn more about how does exercise reduce stress and how to manage stress with medication for other vices.

Don’t wait any longer to reach out for help. Online therapy like the kind that Talkspace offers can be a great place to start. Find out if your bouts of crying are healthy, or if there’s something in your life you can (and should!) address through therapy. 

Sources:

1. Murube J. Hypotheses on the Development of Psychoemotional Tearing. Ocul Surf. 2009;7(4):171-175. doi:10.1016/s1542-0124(12)70184-2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1542012412701842. Accessed May 6, 2022.

2. Gračanin A, Bylsma L, Vingerhoets A. Is crying a self-soothing behavior?. Front Psychol. 2014;5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4035568/. Accessed May 6, 2022.

3. Millings A, Hepper E, Hart C, Swift L, Rowe A. Holding Back the Tears: Individual Differences in Adult Crying Proneness Reflect Attachment Orientation and Attitudes to Crying. Front Psychol. 2016;7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934120/. Accessed May 6, 2022.

4. Aragón O, Clark M, Dyer R, Bargh J. Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli. Psychol Sci. 2015;26(3):259-273. doi:10.1177/0956797614561044. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25626441/. Accessed May 6, 2022.

5. Sung K, Khan S, Nawaz M et al. Lysozyme as a barrier to growth of Bacillus anthracis strain Sterne in liquid egg white, milk and beef. Food Microbiol. 2011;28(6):1231-1234. doi:10.1016/j.fm.2011.03.002. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21645824/. Accessed May 6, 2022.

6. Mukamal, R. All About Emotional Tears. American Academy of Ophthalmology.  https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/all-about-emotional-tears. Published 2018. Accessed June 9, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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