Should we all deliberately cry a little more?

Crying is also thought to be good for the physical body.
Crying is also thought to be good for the physical body. Photo: Stocksy

Rachel Olsson Smith drops her kids off at school with smiles and hugs, hops back into the car to drive to work and starts bawling her eyes out. But there's nothing wrong.

Olsson Smith, 33, is a deliberate crier and she has planned her day to start this way. As a mum, teacher, entertainer and owner of a family farm, she swears by crying to relieve some of the pressures of a busy life.

"I wear a lot of hats and if I don't let some emotion out, I get snappy," she says. "It's not good to bottle it up. It's not always about being sad, either.

I cry when I'm happy, when I'm angry – it's just a great stress release."

Olsson Smith isn't alone in choosing to have a good blubber when she wants to release some pressure.

Dr Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of social and behavioural sciences at Tilberg University in the Netherlands, is one of the world's leading experts on crying. His studies show that for emotional release, crying is second only to listening to comforting music. Shedding tears alone in an intimate setting accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of all crying episodes.

For Olsson Smith, that intimate setting is usually the car. "I even keep a packet of wet wipes and an emergency make-up kit in the console for touch ups," she says. "When I'm driving, I just think about stuff and let it flow. It's like it cleanses the soul or something."

But is deliberate crying any more soul-cleansing than reactionary crying?

Dr Shushann Movsessian, a Sydney psychotherapist, says the cathartic effect of both is basically the same. "Either way, there are great biological benefits. Both types of crying produce emotional tears, which contain stress hormones – these are then excreted from the body; and it helps stimulate the production of endorphins. That's why we often feel good afterwards."

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Beyond the emotional benefits, crying is also thought to be good for the physical body. Movsessian explains that it may even be good for the heart.

"When we cry, it means we're not holding a contraction in our body, so we're eliminating that stress we feel in our chest," she says. "It's quite simply another one of the body's efficiencies, and some people choose to make themselves cry because they believe it's physically therapeutic, as well as lifting their spirits."

Kate Wight is one of those believers. The 44-year-old marketing manager describes herself as "the queen of a good cry", saying she goes into lockdown every couple of months.

"I put on a heart-wrenching movie, grab a wine and have a good howl," she says. "Sometimes there's a reason, sometimes there's not, but I know I'll always feel better afterwards."

Wight acknowledges it's more likely to be women who plan crying sessions as a coping mechanism, adding that she believes that if more men allowed themselves to cry freely, they would reap the emotional health benefits. "I think it makes you stronger," she says. "And you use that strength to get you through the next hardship life throws at you, because guaranteed – it's going to happen."

Even after studying the subject for over 25 years, Dr Vingerhoets still refers to crying as an "intriguing phenomenon". "We are the only species to shed emotional tears and the only species to continue to cry into our adult life," he says, adding that we still have so much more to discover about our crying behaviour.

In the meantime, maybe more of us should consider scheduling regular dates with a sad movie and a box of tissues – all in the name of greater happiness, of course.