How crying may also help with pandemic stress

Many of us have suffered in both big and small ways over the past year. We are more isolated than ever and at the same time we are taking on new tasks such as distance learning or working from home without childcare. We may mourn a death or mourn the postponement of a wedding. During these extraordinary times, stress and sadness can build up in us, especially when we suppress our negative feelings.

After my sobbing session, I asked myself: Could crying be a way to manage and relieve this stress? And if so, is it a good idea to make us cry?

The truth about emotional crying

There are three types of tears: basal tears, reflex tears, and psychological tears. Basal tears and reflexive tears keep your eyes healthy by lubricating them and ridding them of harmful irritants. The tears of crying are psychological tears that Gauri Khurana, a psychiatrist for children, adolescents, and adults in New York, defines as “tears emitted during an emotional state.”

Certain theories about emotional tears have existed for centuries, such as the widely held belief that crying removes toxins from the body and always leads to a sense of catharsis or emotional release, says Lauren Bylsma, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh Research focuses on crying and emotional functioning. However, research on crying is limited, partly due to the difficulty of mimicking emotional situations in a laboratory and the ethical concerns of studying crying in more natural situations.

Until now, the idea that crying causes physical detox, or flushes toxins from the body, hasn’t been backed by solid evidence, says Bylsma. And while catharsis can sometimes occur while crying, it doesn’t always have to occur.

“It seems that crying only occurs. . . After the climax of the emotional experience, crying is associated with this return to homeostasis, ”she says. “Crying can help aid in this stress recovery process, but it may only happen in certain circumstances, depending on the context in which the person is crying.” There are other, more important, factors that play a role in how someone feels after crying, like the social support they receive.

Another popular theory about emotional crying that has not been proven by research is that holding back tears or not crying despite grief is unhealthy.

There is some preliminary evidence that people who “purposely suppress and hold their tears can have both psychological and potentially physical negative effects,” says Bylsma. When under stress, you may experience headaches or feel less connected to others if you don’t share your needs.

Additionally, “emotional restraint from suffering can also lead to emotional restraint with joy and happiness,” says Jennifer Henry, director of the counseling center at Maryville University, because crying is a way to acknowledge your feelings.

But Bylsma adds that it is important to understand that there are significant differences in people’s propensity to cry. You “might not feel the urge to cry, and that’s not necessarily unhealthy,” she says. Also, it is not necessarily harmful to suppress crying when it could have undesirable consequences, e.g. B. “If you cry at work and it interferes with your job performance or is an inappropriate situation”.

How and when to cry is most beneficial

According to Bylsma, there are huge differences in how you can benefit from crying, but a key factor is social context: you are more likely to experience benefits from crying for supportive people.

“Crying and opening is really a social cue to show vulnerability and to show that something is wrong in a way that cannot be expressed in words,” says Khurana. Crying tells others and ourselves that we may need help or that we are overwhelmed – feelings that are all too common during this pandemic.

The level of social connection and support that crying fosters depends on the culture and the person you’re crying for, says Henry. For example, crying in front of your best friend can bring you more comfort than crying for a coworker. But the “social bond, support, and connection” of crying is powerful, says Henry.

Whether you’re crying with someone else or alone, shedding tears can also help you “face the things that bother you, face them, and process them emotionally,” says Bylsma. “You could achieve a new cognitive understanding. . . by spending that time focusing on it, because crying is something that is very attention grabbing to individuals and to others around you. “

That way, crying can act as a signal to “stop and take care of ourselves and address those emotions” by addressing underlying problems or stressors, says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a Connecticut-based psychologist and inclusive mental health expert .

Crying is not only support from others and a deeper understanding of what may be troubling you, it is also a form of expression. “Emotional expression is generally healthy and something we’d like to encourage in order to help people deal with the feelings they’re dealing with,” says Bylsma.

Should you make yourself cry

Is crying healthy when you cry because you can have some social and emotional benefits? It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, says Bylsma.

“It depends on how you make yourself cry and what your purpose is in it,” adds Henry. “If you feel like there is unresolved sadness or something that you really, really need to get out of,” she says, there may be some value in “trying to harness the emotions that the crying might be provoking.”

But Bylsma says you shouldn’t worry if you can’t cry, especially during the pandemic. Some people may have a “traumatic chronic stress response that may make them feel numb” and have trouble getting in touch with their emotions because everything is going on, she says.

Instead of forcing yourself to cry out of the blue, each of the experts recommends allowing yourself to cry – and even trigger a wine session – whenever you feel like stress or emotions are building up. “When a person feels the urge to cry and feels like they need to express their feelings, they should do so in whatever context is most helpful, be it alone or with someone else or on a Zoom call,” says Bylsma.

“The first reaction people have, most of the time, when we feel the tears coming is that we try to stop them,” says Capanna-Hodge. “Stop trying to put the brakes on. Make it happen and give it the time it takes. “

Allow a good scream

To prepare for a healthy scream, find a safe and comfortable place for yourself or someone you trust. Bylsma recommends looking for people you are generally close to and sharing other types of emotional responses with them.

You can make crying by listening to a song that triggers emotions, watching a sad movie, talking to your therapist, or simply telling a friend that you need to cry. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When you trigger a good scream, “your subconscious allows you to let go of things that may have been holding you back,” says Capanna-Hodge.

Crying can look different for everyone. Her scream could consist of a few tears or half an hour of sobs. Your crying will also depend on what you’re experiencing, whether it’s a job loss or a stressful week on the front lines. But if you’ve been crying consistently for a couple of weeks or don’t know why you’re crying, it may be a sign that you should find a therapist to help you figure out what’s going on and provide support, says Henry.

You can also provide a comfortable and supportive place to cry for your family and friends. You don’t need a solution; It’s just important to be with them. This, says Khurana, often allows “love and worry to blossom in ways that were not there before”.

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