Crying Can Actually Make You Feel Less Sad, Science Says

When we're feeling down, we may try to avoid crying and be push our emotions aside. However, a new study sheds light on why we really should let it all out.

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We all cry now and then. Whether it’s weeping your way through a sad movie or bawling your eyes out after a breakup, it’s an oh-so-human thing to do. (Once the tears subside, these tips can help you get over that breakup.) Still, there’s a stigma associated with shedding a tear now and then. You might get shifty looks on the subway when you’re having a little whimper. Or your friends may sympathetically tell you to “hold it together” when you’re on the brink of a total sobfest. But maybe we shouldn’t suppress this completely natural urge.

Having a good old-fashioned cry when you’re feeling blue could very well help lift your mood, according to a study by the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. The intriguing research was published in Springer’s journal Motivation and Emotion and sought to find out why it is that we cry and how it could help us balance our emotions.

Asmir Gračanin and his team of researchers showed 60 different participants a stereotypical tearjerker movie, which was either La Vita è Bella or Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. As you may have guessed already, the idea was to get some of them to cry at what they saw. It worked. While 32 of the participants failed to shed a single tear, the 28 others cried at least once while watching the film. (Want to conduct your own experiment? Try getting through the saddest movie clip of all time without crying.)

After that, it was about seeing how crying (or, indeed not crying) affected the participants’ moods. Researchers had each participant rate how they felt right away, 20 minutes after having a good old weep, and then again 90 minutes after crying. Those who didn’t shed a tear also rated their moods at the same intervals.

The non-criers experienced no change in their mood immediately after the film, whereas the criers saw a sudden dip in their emotions. Twenty minutes later, the “criers” found that their mood has returned to normal, and a further 90 minutes later, their mood was better than it had been at the start of the experiment. The results suggest that crying actually improves our moods a little after we’ve done it.

“After the initial deterioration of mood following crying, it takes some time for the mood not only to recover but also to be lifted above the levels at which it had been before the emotional event,” Gračanin told Science Daily.

Needless to say, if you’re experiencing low or dull emotions on a daily basis, something more serious could be afoot. Major depressive disorder is the most common mental issue affecting people in the US, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. What’s more, as the days get shorter and the darkness lasts longer, some may start to experience another low-mood disorder fittingly known as SAD. Here are some of the silent signs you could have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for personal and lifestyle pieces. Her word has been seen in a number of regional publications in the UK. She has a knack for making any subject engaging and interesting and is able to promote her work via social media effectively.