Crying Doesn't Work

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Rarely can a movie or commercial or cheesy viral video choke up my gullet and brim my eyes with tears. Per the copious personality profiles I’ve taken, it seems I come across as cold and matter-of-fact to most people.

I promise I have a soft core. In fact, I have recent proof: Though we don’t need to enter the reasons right now, I’ve had recent occasion to dissolve into tears and sobs more than once in a few-day span.

And every time I broke down into a wet and snotty mess, I felt worse afterward. My head felt fuzzy, my eyes bleary, my body worn out. And these after effects lasted hours, even days.

Physically and psychologically, crying exhausted me.

I felt better when I managed to dam the impending flow and distract my mind. If I took a few deep breaths and changed course the moment I caught my thoughts roving into dangerous territory, I could soldier on.

Doesn’t this run counter to the widespread notion that bottling up our emotions and jamming them down makes things worse? Haven’t we all heard that we need to get things out of our systems? Don’t people say that sometimes we just need a “good cry?”

You readers know me: I go to the research.

From what I could uncover, it seems only one major academic study has assessed how people feel after crying. Though one report indicates that over two-thirds of mental-health practitioners actively promote crying as a therapy tool, researchers at the University of South Florida published research in the Journal of Research in Personality indicating that crying rarely helps.

In 61 percent of the study’s cases, crying neither helped nor hurt a person’s mood. Only 30 percent of study participants felt better after crying. And 9 percent of people reported feeling worse after breaking down into tears.

Count me in the 9 percent.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the people who reported feeling better after crying often had cried the hardest and they frequently had someone to comfort them while they sobbed. Further, tears seemed more beneficial if their trigger had resolved or passed into the past.

Learning lesson? We should give up the notion that weeping universally helps. Yet if we must have a meltdown, doing it with a loving shoulder nearby and while heartily leaning into the sobs will give us the biggest benefit.

Though neither will help with the resulting puffy face and eyes.

How do you feel after a cry?