This Is Why It Feels So Great To Cry

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
If there's any upside to feeling crappy, it's that you've got an excuse to cry it out. Japan has taken that idea a step further with the introduction of group crying nights and even hotel rooms specifically for crying in. So, what is it about crying that feels so great?

Despite the widespread belief that crying makes us feel better, the actual research on the topic is somewhat limited. One classic study looked at people's tears produced in different scenarios. The researchers found that tears brought on by emotionally stressful situations had more proteins than tears created by an irritant, such as chopping an onion. So, the idea is that you are literally crying out compounds involved in stress. However, other researchers haven't had much luck replicating these results.

Another study had 60 participants watch neutral or tear-jerker movies. The researchers here saw that crying was associated with a calming effect; it forced participants to slow their breathing and decrease their heart rate. In this way, the authors say crying could function as "an arousing distress signal and a means to restore psychological and physiological balance." 

But, one thing the research does seem to agree on is that crying doesn't always make us feel better — as usual, context is key. One study found that, out of 1,004 crying episodes, only 30% of them actually resulted in improved mood, suggesting that there's big a difference between asking people about individual crying episodes and their crying overall. However, personality traits don't seem to matter for crying benefits: Those of us who rank higher on neuroticism do tend to cry more frequently, but don't report feeling better more often than other people.

Also, your emotional state going into the cry-fest matters a lot, since you're more likely to feel better if you're crying for a positive reason (i.e. if you were already happy before the crying) and if you have social support nearby. Other research suggests you're only likely to feel better after those tears if there isn't any shame involved. So, crying in a big group — in which everyone is there for the singular purpose of crying without feeling bad about it — may actually present the best chance to get a mood boost. Anyone want to head to Japan for a cry-night? 
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