For centuries, women have been chided for showing emotion—labeling the natural human response as evidence of overly sensitive or rash behavior. Over the years, our culture has used that same criticism to explain why women shouldn't hold high-powered positions or be taken seriously in any space outside the home. "Western culture has been fairly obsessed with rationalism, a philosophy that places a premium on reason over sensory and emotional experience," Heather Silvestri, Ph.D., a New York City–based psychologist told our wellness editor as she grappled with the validity of her own emotions.
Aside from the obvious sexist undertones of the "too emotional" debate, there is real, science-backed evidence that proves crying is not only a cathartic release but good for your health too. "Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration," says Judith Orloff, MD. "Protectively, they lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and they contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes. But emotional tears have special health benefits.
"Biochemist and 'tear expert' William Frey, Ph.D., at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural painkiller and 'feel-good' hormones."
Crying is good for you. Allowing a space to live with and work through your emotions is always going to be helpful—both physically and mentally. To open up the floodgates, I reached out to a few women in the office (and our lovely readers, too) for the stories of their last great cry and how they felt after letting it all out. As Silvestri says, "Repressed emotion is like a beach ball held underwater: the further down you push it, the higher and more forcefully it's going to pop out into the air."
"The last time I cried was in two parts. The first cry was knee-jerk—my ex-boyfriend had just called me and told me he was in a 'serious relationship' with someone new. This was inopportune timing because I was currently in an Uber with two of my friends on the way to meet more friends at a bar. I was more or less completely caught off guard by this news and involuntarily burst into tears the second I hung up the phone. The second cry came later in the night. Even though I had dried my tears and danced to Madonna all night, I knew I wasn't fully recovered from this news and allowed myself a long, gut-wrenching, shoulder-shaking cry in my bed (accompanied by The XX).
It was so therapeutic both emotionally and physically. I felt exhausted afterward but also lighter—like I let go of something I had held inside for a very long time. The next morning, I woke up and felt better."
"My last great cry was about six months ago, the week my favorite aunt passed away. I didn’t cry at all when I found out, but later that week at home listening to music, Jewel’s “Pieces of You” album came on. When “Foolish Games” began I sobbed until there were no more tears left. Her and I used to listen to that album on repeat and that was her favorite song. It was bittersweet—heartbreaking, but still sharing a moment with her after she was gone."
"If you'd asked anyone close to me if I was a 'crier' a few years ago, they wouldn't have hesitated before nodding profusely. But somewhere in time, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't waste my tears on trivial things that aren't worth the water in my body I so desperately need for hydration. As a result, I can't remember the last time I really, truly cried (though I completely agree that a good release is one of the most cathartic forms of therapy in the world).
"That being said, I did have a moment just before my boyfriend and I moved out of our apartment this past spring. It was our first home together, and during our time there, a lot of great things happened: I started my job at Byrdie, we got engaged, and other meaningful milestones. But in a weird way, a few family members had passed while we lived there, so moving out of a place we lived in while they were still here with us seemed to cement that they were really, truly gone, and with all the other good memories, we were leaving them behind with the empty cupboards and bare floors.
We love our new apartment—it's a much shinier, newer place to call home, but I don't think I could ever love it as much as our tiny, outdated first haunt."
"I had been in Australia for two years and was heading back to the UK. I swam out into the sea, as I figured no one would notice me crying in the water, and said goodbye to both that beautiful place and the guy I’d been seeing. It felt like a massive release. I climbed back onto the sand and drank warm wine with a friend."
"I would classify myself as a crier—but over things like Cheerios commercials and the Olympics. When it comes to the real emotions that inhabit my body (ones that affect my life like family, relationships, and career), I've always tried to keep it together. It's been detrimental, if I'm being honest, because really living with emotion, sitting in it, and then releasing it is the first step toward moving forward. In the past, I've tried so hard to be cool, remain balanced, and unaffected.
"So I've really tried to allow myself to cry more often—even if it's about a boy, which is the kind that makes me feel most foolish. But understanding why something makes you feel bad and how best to handle that is never futile. Yes, the last time I cried was about a boy. I was worried he was over it, over me, and cried because I was scared of what might come next. I'd been in that position before, the receiver of the 'I'm not looking for anything serious' talk and more so than wanting to hold on to him specifically, I cried because I didn't want to deal with the insecurity I'd feel with the fallout.
Once I did cry, though, the kind of silent, lonely tears I wouldn't dare let myself release before—I felt proud. Proud of myself for no longer running from the emotions I'd inevitably feel and relieved to have expelled them from my body. Then I felt empowered. I decided to talk to him and let the reality of how he was feeling replace my projected fears. The crying was the catalyst to a really open, vulnerable discussion."
"I cry pretty easily, not out of sadness necessarily but out of anything: joy, frustration, stress, a beautiful piece of music, general emotional overwhelmed-ness. In fact, if I'm crying, profound sadness is probably the least likely cause. But about two weeks ago, my mom's dad, one of the few family members I was ever deeply close with and admired like a demigod, passed away. There was a lot of crying after it happened, but especially on the flight home from his memorial service. I kept watching a video I'd recorded of my mom reading his eulogy over and over again, weeping in my window seat.
I kept calling myself a masochist for doing that to myself. The eulogy was so beautiful and so devastating. But I guess I just needed to keep watching it to remind myself that this had really happened and to fully feel the extent of what that meant. Boy, do I feel bad for the lady in the middle seat, though. Hopefully, she just thought I was watching Marley & Me on my phone and was none the wiser."
"The last time I cried was a few days ago. I have horrible hypochondria and it’s been terrible all year. I don’t know how I hit a breaking point a few days ago, but I cried and let everything out. I locked myself in my room for a while and told myself to ‘get it together.’ It’s been a work in progress for a few years. It’s hard to overcome, but with tips and support it’s possible. The cry made me feel so good. It lifted a weight off me."
"The last time I had a big, cathartic, emotionally charged cry was on an airplane bound to Sydney, Australia, where I grew up. I'd quit my job to travel the world and was heading back after five months of sleeping in hostels, wearing the same clothes every day, and being constantly on the road. I was spent. I got on the Qantas flight and heard an Aussie accent over the loudspeaker, and it triggered me. I wasn't crying from sadness; I was overwhelmed by the feeling of comfort and familiarity of heading home.
I couldn't even figure out at the time why I was crying, but now, looking back, I realized that after months of being 'switched on,' meeting new people, and absorbing new experiences, I needed an emotional release. It felt so good to just let go and cry on a plane full of strangers."
"The last memorable cry I had was watching Coco on a plane ride. I don't usually bawl my eyes out for Disney movies, but this one was really sweet and struck a nerve (probably because it was all about family, another nerve-striking topic). While I was in public and couldn't completely let it all out as much as I wanted to—and I wanted to—I do find something really satisfying and cathartic about watching a movie that can trigger those reactions."
"My last good cry was when I took my kids to Disney Land for the first time. It was meant more than just a family trip. My parents always wanted to take my siblings and I when we were younger and they were unable to to, so, to have the opportunity to make my children brought out some good tears."
"A great friend of mine lost one of her parents. When I heard the news, my heart sank in disbelief. I was traveling for work at the time of his passing and the funeral was a few days afterward in another state. I knew I wouldn't be able to cancel my work travel, pack up everything, and go. I felt horrible for not being able to be there. Life and priorities got in the way. I called, texted, FaceTimed her every second I could since I couldn't physically be there to comfort her.
"To back things up a bit, this friend and I have had a rocky relationship of accusations and manipulative behavior. Although I love her infinitely, our tumultuous history is not something I can shake. I naturally run away from conflict—blame my picture-perfect Portland childhood and my dream family for giving me this rosy outlook on life. So when drama follows me, I drift away. As a 20-something living in New York, I've learned how to deal with conflict over time since it's inevitable. She's one of the people in my life who has taught me this lesson.
"This friend and I had been communicating frequently since her father's passing. But one morning I woke up to a text from her that changed everything. To sum up her words, she accused me of not being there and not doing enough for her during this hard time in her life. She went as far to say how surprised she was at my low efforts. I later found out this was because I didn't attend the funeral. I threw my phone down and physically ran away from it, balling my eyes out in my living room. I was shocked that she'd say that about me when I'd journaled a few days before about how I need to be there for her 100%.
I don't know how it feels to lose a parent, so I was being a friend the best way I knew how to. I cried and cried for hours and my heart ached for days following. I felt so misunderstood and judged by her that I was sick to my stomach.
"Everyone mourns differently and I know she wanted to hurt me, and she did. I cried to my parents, my sister, and my friends who knew the situation. I'd done everything I possibly could to show support for her and it still wasn't enough. A few people chose sides, out of the fact that she was the one who lost a parent. While others in my life who know my heart shared sound advice to help me deal with this unjust and manipulative situation. Since then, we've talked about the situation and settled everything, but it still doesn't feel the same.
I pray for her happiness and hope that she understands I've been nothing but an amazing friend to her. My heart still feels heavy typing this. I know deep down that I was there for her, and she said that because she was hurting. I carry that truth with me."
"I had been preemptively mourning a looming, overdue breakup for months, crying daily over each reminder of its inevitability, when the culminating cry of all cries finally hit. The breakup talk was so swift that it was barely a talk at all, and though it hardly came as a surprise, I felt unnerved to the core. I remember walking to the subway with my heart in my throat—I couldn't articulate the sensation so I have to rely on that cliché—and as soon as I was alone, the tears that I had been so deeply afraid of just rolled and rolled and rolled.
After letting out a series of guttural sounds, soaking my pillow in mascara, writing the same mantra over and over (there are things outside of this room), and listening to the voice of my wisest friend on the phone, the sobbing slowed to a sniffle until it eventually went away. Don't get me wrong, the following day was a daze: I had an eye-throbbing hangover from the grief the night before. But after 24 hours, I felt like myself again. In retrospect, I see that 'the big cry' wasn't a moment of grief at all, but one of relief, of release, of growing up."