Forgive the source material, but no one put it better than Dane Cook: "I need to go home today and I need to cry." He was definitely joking about the idea of setting aside time for a good, long ugly-cry, but this is absolutely something I have done. I don't pray, attend religious services, or spend much time at all reflecting on my relationship with a higher power, but I sure do cry. And let me tell you — it may sound weird, but it's worth it.
There are a few things that I can always count on to make me cry: returning soldiers surprising their pets, John Steinbeck's letter to his son, isolated vocal tracks, and Kid Cudi's "Releaser." These things are and always will be kryptonite for my tear ducts. And, just to be clear: I do not seek these videos out when I am sad. I seek them out to feel an emotional release and, in turn, a sense of restoration.
A community of equally touchy-feely Redditors call the sensation I'm chasing "frisson," which Merriam-Webster describes as "a brief moment of emotional excitement." In my case, it's closer to an extended period of shuddering sobs, after which time I calmly go about my regular tasks of the day, but M-W's definition works, too.
Frisson can come in the form of a tragic image, a moving story, or a speech — the point is that it makes you feel something you don't usually feel in your everyday life. In the same way that we enjoy horror movies because they offer risk-free scares, frisson offers us a safe outlet to experience extreme feelings of joy, loss, and inspiration.
Of course, there's a question that bites at me when I matter-of-factly put time aside to bawl my eyes out: Am I normal? Or, more specifically, is it healthy to shift emotional gears so suddenly? Here's the thing about crying: We should probably do it more than we'd care to admit.
Crying as a cathartic practice is a very old idea, but recent research, for the most part, backs it up. Shedding emotional tears has been found to boost people's moods and relieve stress — some studies suggest that crying even prompts endorphin production. Psychotherapist Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, agrees, calling crying "the ultimate release of an emotion."
She says that letting yourself cry and express your feelings when you feel them is immensely helpful in resolving any pent-up stress, anger, or sadness. Regardless of why you feel the need to cry, Derhally says that crying comes with a feeling of "instant gratification," and that release of emotion can actually have physical benefits, too: "Sometimes, when people repress feelings for too long, it actually manifests as a physically destructive illness."
This helps to demystify my tendency to play Tori Amos' "Mother" on repeat until I feel dehydrated: The act of crying provides a physically and emotionally evident release that I've taken to be spiritual as well.
So, if you've got some free time tonight, sit yourself down with your favorite tearjerker, Chicken Soup For The Soul, or playlist of ballads, and let yourself weep bitter, near-indulgent tears. Trust me, it's the cheapest form of self-care out there. And self-care, as we know, is without a doubt a spiritual practice. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a tissue.