Crying Isn’t a Tension Relief, But How Humans Show They Need Help


If you’ve used crying as a way to release tension after a crappy week, you’re not alone. Popping on a sad film and shedding a few tears is a common way people deal with a build-up of emotions.

When humans cry, it tends to be in response to a feeling ⁠— be it happiness, sadness or frustration. According to the ABC, many experts think humans are probably the “only animals to cry tears due to emotion, and most think this is because we’re such social creatures.”

Research carried out by the University of Queensland has shown that crying functions mostly as a way to tell others that help is needed.

“That seems to be the strongest evidence for why we cry,” associate professor and the study’s author, Dr. Eric Vanman, told the ABC. “We know that if we cry, we’re sending a clear signal to somebody else that you’re in need of help or comfort.”

“The reason why it might make people feel better is because usually, it means that other people are going to help you when they see that you’re crying.”

According to Dr. Vanman, crying when you’re alone and then telling someone about it later fulfils this same need. Posting on social media that you’ve been crying is another “way of sharing with others that you’ve gone through something and allows people to offer support or a shared experience.”

“We’re letting other people know how stressed we are,” he said.

The post-crying act of talking to someone is arguably the most important part of crying, so if you do find yourself feeling emotional frequently, try speaking to a loved one or your GP about it.

The act of crying itself might not the thing that makes you feel better, but there is evidence that shows holding in tears can make you feel even worse. This is most likely because you’re not allowing yourself to signal to your loved ones that you need support.

“Some people don’t like to look vulnerable, that they need any help,” Dr. Vanman said. “So they suppress the crying so that they don’t let other people know they need to be helped or comforted.”

When it comes to crying over a TV show or movie, it’s probably down to the fact that it has touched you emotionally. Why we do this exactly hasn’t been properly explored by scientists.

“That’s an area of crying research we don’t know much about,” Dr. Vanman told the ABC.

But, if you’re inclined to crying ⁠— be it due to a movie or a personal reason ⁠— don’t worry as it’s a normal human function. Next time you find yourself shedding tears, try to talk to someone about what’s prompted the crying as that seems to be where the good post-crying feelings lie.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.

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