health

In praise of a good cry.

I fell in love with Alex in October. Nine months later… no, this story isn’t going there. Nine months later, the love was pulled away: suddenly, devastatingly, arsehole-y (you know the type).

It was a Sunday, and I cried. Because somehow Sunday tears – tears shed inside the house, out of public view – felt justifiable. On Monday morning they just felt weak.

So for the next five working days, I fought them. I went to war with my tear ducts, furious when I felt my eyes involuntarily glazing over, biting my lip to hide its wobble, swallowing down the sticky tightness in my throat.

On the outside, I was composed. On the inside, I was a broken cup held together with Sellotape that had lost its stick. It was only a matter of time before I naturally crumbled.

Even celebs cry.

I fell apart in one of those posh clothing boutiques that make you feel self-conscious just peering through the window. I went in for a distraction, and somewhere near the cashmere sweaters I howled. My upper body collapsed down to my waist, my eyes – celebrating their freedom – poured, tap-like. I sobbed, audibly and unashamedly.

And it felt good.

Instead of feeling embarrassed, I felt unburdened. It was the emotional equivalent of dumping heavy bags of supermarket shopping on the floor after they’ve started cutting into your hands. I wish I’d allowed myself to put those bags down days earlier: to admit that they were too heavy for me.

I was reminded of this incident earlier this month when I read the results of a study on crying by Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Looking at over 5000 people from 37 countries, researchers found that women cry between 30 and 64 times a year, compared to six to 17 times for men.

The results seemed fair, if maybe a little high, but many of the headlines reporting the story implied the same thing: that crying is bad, and women are weaker for doing more of it.

"And it felt good."

This whole idea seemed so wrong – yet it was the very view that I’d once had, and that much of society still has. But surely its time we had crying’s back?

Why do I have hair on my nipples? We found out.

“I believe that crying is the flipside of laughing and if it were treated as such the world would be an easier place to navigate emotionally,” admits psychologist Jacqui Manning.

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Even back in the 1980s, scientists were discovering the health benefits of crying. American biochemist Dr William Frey found that while the tears you shed when there’s something in your eye are made of 98% water – ‘emotional’ tears actually wash out stress hormones.

And everywhere else.

“Crying also signals to the brain to release a neurotransmitter responsible for pain reduction, which is why crying makes most people feel emotionally better. Tears are also believed to be a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated to help you calm yourself,” explains psychologist Gemille Cribb of Equilibrium Psychology.

The truth about what stress is really doing to your face.

And blocking our body’s own personal self-calming device can have miserable consequences.

“Feelings are a natural part of being human; if we don't allow ourselves to let them out we can make things worse by turning to drugs or alcohol to suppress them. Our bodies are capable of ‘somatisation', which means we can physically manifest our emotions – for example, through back pain, migraines or irritable bowel syndrome,” Cribb adds.

“Crying also communicates our vulnerability. Just as a mother needs her baby to cry to know how to care for him or her, people close to you need to understand what distresses you to understand how they can help you.”

Crying is scientifically proven to make you feel better.

As for exactly why women cry more often than men, the jury’s still out.

“Some people say women have different tear ducts, others that it’s because of different levels of the sex hormones testosterone, oestrogen and prolactin,” says Cribb. “Some still think it’s due to social conditioning: men are shamed for crying and discouraged from expressing emotions.”

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But it’s time that we saw tears as a sign of courage and not of weakness. Crying is our body’s duvet, hug, and glass of wine all rolled into one readily accessible package. And if us women are lucky enough to experience that more often than men, I say, guys, you don’t know what you’re missing.

When was the last time you had a good cry?