The Benefits of Crying for Mental Health

women hugging and crying

Steve Peixotto Photography/The Image Bank/Getty

As far as scientists know, humans are the only species that engages in emotional crying. Evidence suggests that other animals do experience emotions and many can produce tears. But those tears don’t appear to be triggered by emotions. They are simply part of a physiological process for lubricating the eyes.

So if emotionally crying is uniquely human, why do we do it? Is it just an accident of evolution or are there real benefits of crying for mental health?

While plenty of research confirms the physical health benefits of tears like keeping our eyes lubricated and killing harmful bacteria, the emerging body of research on human emotional crying is starting to show that it’s just as important for our mental health. Here are some of the benefits of crying science has found so far.

Shed Stress Hormones

Studies suggest that crying might help lower stress levels by actively removing cortisol, a stress hormone, from the body through those tears. In addition to secreting cortisol through tears, the act of crying itself may also trigger a decrease in cortisol production and other stress-related hormones and substances in the body.

Altogether, the combined processes can help decrease your overall feeling of stress.

Release Mood-Boosting Hormones

In addition to lowering stress hormones by secreting them through tears, the act of emotional crying also seems to trigger the production of mood-boosting hormones like oxytocin and endorphins.

Oxytocin produces a sense of well-being and calm while also making us feel more connected to others. Similarly, endorphins improve your sense of well-being while also boosting self-esteem and alleviating stress and anxiety.

Relieve Emotional and Physical Pain

Some research suggests that emotional crying, especially more intense crying, can trigger the release of opioids in the body. While opioids are most well known for their ability to soothe physical pain, they also serve as emotional regulators, easing emotional pain.

Signal the Need for Empathy and Comfort from Others

Crying serves an important social function, too. While you might not have the words to ask for help or comfort, seeing the tears on your face is often enough for someone to understand that you need help. If you’ve ever witnessed someone crying and felt that instinctive urge to hug them or come to their aid, you know the power that crying can have.

That social function is essential for your mental health, too, as receiving empathy and help from others can make you feel less isolated and like you don’t have to carry this emotional burden alone.

Humans are a social species, so the feeling that we’re not alone is essential to our mental well-being.

Cool Your Brain Down

Like the rest of your body, your brain can get overheated and studies show that even small increases in brain temperature can have a negative impact on your mood. Meanwhile, crying—especially intense sobbing—stimulates blood flow to the brain and causes you to breathe harder.

That blood flow and increased air flow from breathing help lower your brain temperature, which in turn, can improve mood and create a sense of relief.

Improve Sleep

Another benefit of crying for mental health is the way it can aid sleep. When you cry, the parasympathetic nervous system activates. The PNS is responsible for returning your body to homeostasis after a stressful event. That process of switching from a state of stress to a state of homeostasis makes you feel relieved, calm, and ready to rest—all of which can make it easier to go to sleep.

Moreover, intense crying uses up a lot of energy so that you feel tired at the end of a long crying session. In some cases, you might feel tired enough to fall asleep quickly. The many stress-relieving and calming effects that crying has may also help you fall asleep more easily.

Getting enough restful sleep is essential for your mental health. Not only does sleep deprivation cause heightened levels of stress and psychosis but improving your sleep can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and overall psychological wellbeing.

Crying May Not Help With Depression

For all the positive effects that crying can have on a person’s mood, some research suggests that depression might come with an impaired response to crying. Specifically, while patients with depression do seem to cry more often overall, they also tend to report less mood improvement afterward than people without depression.

Moreover, for patients with anhedonic depression—the inability to experience pleasure—it may be difficult to cry at all, meaning this important self-soothing behavior is unavailable to them.

Alternative Self-Soothing Strategies to Try

If you struggle with depression and find it difficult to cry or to feel relief after you cry, you still have other options. These are some other evidence-based strategies you can try to get those mood-boosting, stress-relieving benefits that come with crying:

  • Do deep breathing exercises. One reason that crying lowers brain temperature (and improves mood) is that it usually causes you to breathe more deeply. But you don’t have to cry to breathe deeply. Simply close your eyes, inhale while counting to five in your head, and then exhale while counting to five. These long, deep breaths can also help bring down brain temperature.
  • Go for a walk. No, going for a walk won’t cure a mood disorder, but it will release endorphins and lower cortisol levels, so it can offer some pain relief and mood-boosting effects just like crying does. For best results, try to walk in a natural environment like a park or a tree-lined street.
  • Watch a scary movie. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but research shows that horror movies that actually scare you can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system after they end, creating that sense of relief you feel when the movie is over. This makes them a useful tool for people who struggle to achieve that state of calm and relaxation on their own.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. Lie down somewhere comfortable, close your eyes and let your body go limp. Then, pick a part of the body (such as your left hand or right calf) and tense it as tightly as you can for five seconds while inhaling slowly. Then, release that tension completely while exhaling. Repeat with different parts of your body. End by tensing your entire body and then releasing that tension. This is an anti-anxiety technique that has been shown to alleviate pain, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep.
  • Ask a friend to sit with you. Crying acts as a signal to others that you need comfort and empathy. But if you find it difficult to cry, you can still get that mood-boosting comfort and empathy from others by just asking directly. It might not sound like it makes a big difference. But if you're in the depths of a depressive episode, it really helps to just have someone sitting beside you, allowing you to be depressed. Their presence is a reminder that you're not as isolated as you might feel right now.
16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bekoff M. Animal emotions: exploring passionate natures. BioScience. 2000;50(10):861. Doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0861:AEEPN]2.0.CO;2

  2. Magazine S, Diamond A. Do other animals cry and more questions from our readers. Smithsonian Magazine.

  3. Sung K, Khan SA, Nawaz MS, et al. Lysozyme as a barrier to growth of Bacillus anthracis strain Sterne in liquid egg white, milk and beef. Food Microbiology. 2011;28(6):1231-1234. Doi:10.1016/

  4. Barabino S, Benitez-del-Castillo JM, Fuchsluger T, et al. Dry eye disease treatment: the role of tear substitutes, their future, and an updated classification. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2020;24(17):8642-8652. Doi:10.26355/eurrev_202009_22801

  5. Vingerhoets AJJM, Kirschbaum C. Crying, mood, and cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine. 1997;(59):92-93.

  6. Vingerhoets A. Why Only Humans Weep: Unravelling the Mysteries of Tears. Oxford University Press; 2013. Doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198570240.001.0001

  7. Kirtley OJ, O’Carroll RE, O’Connor RC. The role of endogenous opioids in non-suicidal self-injurious behavior: Methodological challenges. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2015;48:186-189. Doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.11.007

  8. Balsters MJH, Krahmer EJ, Swerts MGJ, Vingerhoets AJJM. Emotional tears facilitate the recognition of sadness and the perceived need for social support. Evol Psychol. 2013;11(1):148-158.

  9. Gračanin A, Bylsma LM, Vingerhoets AJJM. Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Front Psychol. 2014;5. Doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502

  10. Gračanin A, Bylsma LM, Vingerhoets AJJM. Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Front Psychol. 2014;5. Doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502

  11. Freeman D, Sheaves B, Goodwin GM, et al. The effects of improving sleep on mental health (Oasis): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2017;4(10):749-758. Doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30328-0

  12. Rottenberg J, Cevaal A, Vingerhoets AJJM. Do mood disorders alter crying? a pilot investigation. Depress Anxiety. 2008;25(5):E9-E15. Doi:10.1002/da.20331

  13. Steer R. Self-reported inability to cry as a symptom of anhedonic depression in outpatients with a major depressive disorder. Psychol Rep. 2011;108(3):874-882. Doi:10.2466/

  14. Astuti NF, Rekawati E, Wati DNK. Decreased blood pressure among community dwelling older adults following progressive muscle relaxation and music therapy (Resik). BMC Nurs. 2019;18(S1):36. Doi:10.1186/s12912-019-0357-8

  15. Mateu M, Alda O, Inda MDM, et al. Randomized, controlled, crossover study of self-administered jacobson relaxation in chronic, nonspecific, low-back pain. Altern Ther Health Med. 2018;24(6):22-30.

  16. Harorani M, Davodabady F, Masmouei B, Barati N. The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in burn patients: A randomized clinical trial. Burns. 2020;46(5):1107-1113. Doi:10.1016/j.burns.2019.11.021

By Rachael Green
Rachael is a New York-based writer and freelance writer for Verywell Mind, where she leverages her decades of personal experience with and research on mental illness—particularly ADHD and depression—to help readers better understand how their mind works and how to manage their mental health.