Why crying is good for your mental health

  • Shedding a few tears can help release stress and emotional pain, safeguarding against depression, says one Hong Kong-based social worker
  • Many people - especially boys - may try and suppress their emotions, but it’s hard to build meaningful connections without being vulnerable
Doris Wai |

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When was the last time you held back your tears? Growing up, many of us, especially boys, have been told crying is a sign of weakness. But Katie Leung Pui-yan, a clinical social worker at Lifespan Counselling, tells Young Post why this couldn’t be further from the truth, and that bawling your eyes out is actually an important way to release stress and emotional pain.

Leung, who is a child and family therapist practising in Hong Kong and Canada, says crying is a perfectly natural reaction to pain or sadness.

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Crying is an emotional safety valve that prevents us from being overwhelmed by suppressed emotions, which could otherwise lead to depression or other mental health issues.

“It is a release of the built-up energy deep inside,” Leung says. “This is your body’s way of soothing itself, and recognising an emotion that you possibly have been feeling for a while but can’t quite put a finger on.”

She says that some of her clients tend to hold back their tears until they voice their feelings. She says that verbally acknowledging the pent-up emotions helps our brain to validate our feelings, which then releases the tears.

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However, the issue is that there is a stigma associated with crying. “When your brain and feelings make a connection, that’s when the emotions come and tears flow. But almost instantly the embarrassment [comes along]: ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I cried’,” Leung says.

In particular, Leung says many of her male clients are reluctant to cry as they have been told not to do so since childhood. This is likely due to deep-seated patriarchal beliefs. While this dates back to a time when men were seen as sole protectors of the family and had to “toughen up”, this somewhat archaic mentality has been passed down the generations, and, today, many teenage boys are still discouraged from crying.

Don't try to hold it all in! Letting out your emotions is far easier and healthier.

“The danger of suppressing all these feelings is that it becomes hard to build connections and meaningful relationships. We bond over vulnerability, and crying [is one way for] others to see who you are within. When you hold back your feelings, that’s when it is hard for others to understand, empathise, and build meaningful connections with you,” Leung says.

There are other ways aside from crying to share your feelings with others, but vulnerability is key.

Finding friends you trust will help you feel comfortable enough to take down your guard. Equally important is being that trusted friend who won’t judge someone else who is crying.

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And if you’ve ever felt ashamed of welling up while reading a sad story or recalling an upsetting incident, Leung says it’s time to reframe your negative definition of tears.

This starts with acknowledging that crying is in our biology, and that a huge part of our brain is focused on emotions. Rather than treating it as an optional reaction, we should regard it as a natural bodily function, just like the need to eat and sleep.

With this comes the understanding that we can connect with our inner self through tears. Leung explains that crying your heart out can be a form of self-care. As strange as it may seem, sobbing through a two-hour tear-jerker can be a good way to recalibrate your body and rid your system of negative energy.

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While it is easy for some people to turn on the waterworks, others may have a hard time doing so if they’ve been in a “drought period”.

Leung points out that teenagers, especially boys, often struggle to express their emotions, and she suggests speaking to a therapist to find out if there are underlying reasons. On the other hand, if you’re crying way too often or are unable to stop, it’s also a good idea to seek professional help.

If you’re used to holding back tears, try reframing your point of view – and don’t be afraid of releasing some of that emotion.

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