As a child I couldn't understand why my tear ducts were dry when my grandfather died. But that night when my dad tried to lighten the mood with some tickling at my bedtime tuck-in, my giggles turned into crying, much to my horror -- and relief.
So it came as no surprise to learn that researchers believe crying and laughing stem from the same part of the brain. Just as laughing has a host of health benefits (lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system), scientists are discovering that so, too, does crying.
"Whatever it takes for an individual to vent and release stress is essential to our emotional health," says Jodi DeLuca, a neuropsychologist. And crying seems to work well: One survey found that 85% of women and 73% of men felt better after crying.
Even more important than acting as stress relievers, tears attract help from other people. Researchers agree that when we cry, people around us become milder and less aggressive, and they're more likely to provide support and comfort.
Tears enable self-disclosure too; sometimes we don't even know we're upset until we cry. "We learn about our emotions through crying, and then we can deal with them," says neuroscientist William H. Frey II, author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears.
Just as crying can be healthy, not crying -- holding back tears of anger or grief -- can be bad for our bodies. Studies have linked emotional repression to high blood pressure, heart problems and cancer. "We are genetically programmed to cry, and denying that impulse damages our physical well being," says DeLuca.
Despite the benefits of bawling, if crying interferes with everyday life, see your doctor or a therapist. It could be and early sign of depression.
Doctors aren't prescribing sob sessions just yet; how much we cry depends on genetics, gender (women cry four time more than men) and upbringing. But when you feel like weeping, don't fight it. It's a natural and healthy -- emotional response.
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