Crying is not well-respected in our culture. Children are name-called—Crybaby or Baby—boys are told it’s not manly to cry, and girls are told they cry too much. But crying is a valuable skill we can use to help ourselves through emotional distress.
You’ve probably had the experience of feeling better after a good cry. Why is this?
Why We Feel Better After a Good Cry
Nobody knows for sure, but it’s been suggested that crying helps re-regulate our nervous system from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic system.
In simple terms, the sympathetic nervous system is related to work and activity. The parasympathetic nervous system is related to rest and digest.
When we are upset about a situation or person, our sympathetic nervous system goes into action. We may feel like fighting (arguing, yelling, or throwing things) or we may feel like ‘fleeing’ (running away, shutting down, or ignoring). Both of these natural responses—fight and flee—demand a lot of energy from our nervous system. We sweat, our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases and our blood pressure goes up.
These reactions are preparing us for action, but they create wear and tear on our bodies if we stay in this mode for too long.
This is where crying comes in. Crying helps us move ourselves from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system—it re-regulates our nervous system.
Two Types of Crying
Sometimes crying has the flavour of frustration and anger, and sometimes it has a different flavour—the flavour of resignation or acceptance. This latter type of crying means that we have had an emotional confrontation with something we cannot change in this moment. It is the emotional realization that there is nothing we can do to change a person or a situation. This is the process involved in moving from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system
I’ve noticed that my angry cry has an aggressive energy to it. It doesn’t really make me feel better because I am still mad. My resignation or acceptance cry has more of a wailing quality to it. When I cry in this way, I feel more relaxed and calm and my brain seems to open up again with ideas for new possibilities. This type of crying is what I call ‘Conscious Crying.’
How Do I Make Myself Cry?
Making yourself cry involves some practice.
Here is how I practice Conscious Crying. First, I focus on the sensation of frustration or anger in my body about what is not working for me. Where is it located? Next, I pay attention to the sensation, and I intentionally increase that discomfort. This is contrary to what most of us tend to do, which is to RUN from those feelings! Then, I invite myself to remember that crying will help me. I begin by making the ‘ha, ha, ha’ sound of laughing hard. I put my hand on my diaphragm to make sure it is really moving during the ‘ha, ha, ha.’ At the same time, I reconnect with the sensation of frustration or anger. After a bit, I usually start crying, typically just as the feelings and sensations seem to be intolerable. The crying doesn’t last long, but it offers a tremendous relief.
Blocks to ‘Conscious Crying’
In ‘Conscious Crying’ I am conscious and aware that I am inviting myself to cry because it will make me feel better. But…
- Crying is vulnerable and you may not be able to fully cry. Don’t worry—you’ll get a lot of the same benefits simply by feeling very sad about what’s not working for you.
- There is social shame in crying. Most people do not understand its role in re-regulating the nervous system and may try to get you to stop because they think it will make you feel worse. Thank them for their genuine concern and let them know that you are aware of what you’re doing.
- Crying can upset others because they are unused to that much emotion. “Don’t cry!” is a common refrain. Consider a private place to begin your experimenting with Conscious Crying.
- ‘Conscious Crying’ takes bravery. It’s not easy to tolerate the intense feelings generated by this process. Most of us feel even more stressed and strained than usual by the losses, inconveniences, and irritations of Covid-19. Crying is essential in these conditions.
Tears Clear Hormones and Chemicals From Our Bodies
I’ve heard it said that if you dry them up, the tears of resignation or acceptance contain enough toxins to kill a small rodent. It may be that these tears are the body’s way of clearing the hormones and chemicals released during ‘fight or flee.’ Know that you are doing your body a great favour by practicing ‘Conscious Crying.’
Help is Available
I encourage you to experiment with ‘Conscious Crying’ and see if it works for you. You may discover your own method for crying. If you have any questions or would like help with ‘Conscious Crying,’ please make use of my free 15-minute introductory appointment or book an online appointment.
Our registered clinical counsellor Lucinda Flavelle specializes in parent consulting and coaching, individual psychotherapy, and couples counselling. As a result of therapy, you will find yourself relieved of the burdens you were carrying, confident in your new way of being, and with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose about your life. Read more about Lucinda and book your appointment here.