Q: I'm a 43 year old female who has recently been under extreme stress with work, family, and financial problems.  I don't consider myself to be an overly sensitive person, but sometimes I need to lock myself in my room with a bunch of tissues and just let the tears flow.  Surprisingly, I almost always feel better afterwards.  Why is this?

A: Most of us feel better after having what is often referred to as a 'good cry,' and these feelings of relief are far from imaginary.  Not only can a good crying spell unburden your emotional load, but it can also calm and cleanse your whole body. 

Tears come in many types. We've all experienced reactive tears that result from exposure to environmental irritants such as fumes, smog, raw onions, and pollens. And if we didn't have lubricating tears, our eyes would become dry and sore.  These kinds of tears happen automatically and serve to protect the eye and manage any potentially harmful external substances. 

Not surprisingly, emotional tears are also the body's way of protecting us from a build up of internal toxins.  The chemical composition of tears from external factors such as peppers or pollens is bio-chemically different than the tears from emotions.  Proteins that are associated with stress reactions appear in much higher concentrations in our tears when we cry as a result of emotional pain.  Acclaimed researchers such as Frey and Langseth even wrote about the importance of tears in their acclaimed 1985 book Crying: The Mystery of Tears.

In other words, we cry-and need to cry-in order to rid our body of hormones that can be toxic to our emotional and physical well-being. Excess stress hormones take a toll on immunity, weight gain, and mood.  Crying is just one of the parasympathetic nervous system's methods of reducing the arousal levels in our sympathetic nervous system's management of our reactions to pain, crises, flight or fight and even intense joy.

That said, a good cry is often the best (and easiest to swallow) medicine when we feel either relief from good news, pangs of grief, intense joy, or recovery from a frightening event, such as a car accident.

A word of precaution-prolonged and repeated crying that results from serious depression often indicates neurochemical changes in the brain that might benefit from a doctor's visit and prescription anti-depressant medication.

But in general, the next time you feel like crying, just let it flow.  Crying is not a sign of weakness-in fact it's just the opposite.  A smart adult is one who knows the benefits of a good cry.   


Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish is a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, nationally recognized for her work with women's relationship and career issues. She is currently doing research for her next book Strong Women and Love, geared toward women who are smart about their work and careers but not necessarily about love. She welcomes participants in her research on her website www.lovevictory.com. Her expert advice is frequently quoted in many major newspapers, magazines and websites such as The Washington Post, USA Today, Women's Health, US Weekly, More, VivMag, Better Homes and Gardens, Woman's Day, and For the Bride.

She earned her Ed.D. in Adult Development Psychology from the University of Massachusetts and did three years of post-graduate training in marriage and family with the internationally esteemed Dr. Murray Bowen. For more information about Dr. Wish and her works, visit her website at www.lovevictory.com