It has been a rough month, and that’s being generous. I just spent three days in emotional recovery mode, doing every self-care thing I can think of to ease the fallout from the month. The problem is, I’m really just distracting and avoiding the emotions that are welling up just beneath the surface. After three days I feel worse. I feel raw. As I return to “normal” life, I notice the subtle signs of shutting down. I’m spacing out during conversations. I’m emotionally numb. I’m completing work in a robotic manner, only this robot’s programming is glitchy so there are plenty of mistakes. I feel sluggish, like everything is heavy. I’m irritable and impatient. I feel resentful of this life full of responsibilities. I wish I could pause life. Not just take a break but truly experience an absence from life, from emotion, from myself. To slip into a place with no sensation, no action, pure nothingness. Maybe then I could breathe. Maybe then the frown on my face would smooth out, my shoulders would drop from their sentinel stance on either side of my tense neck and tired eyes.
My dog follows me around the house. He can feel this state I’m in. As I curl up on the couch he snuggles in next to me. I take a minute to press my face into his fur. He smells like the outdoors, dust and sunshine. I feel his cold nose resting against my arm. I listen to his even, relaxed breathing. I instinctively respond, letting out a breath I wasn’t aware I was holding. My eyes start to well up. He pushes his head against me and I focus on the soft texture of his fur. I start to cry. I am here. This is OK. I breathe into my tears. In this moment I am hurting, I am human. My dog reminds me I am also safe. I run my hand along his back, reminding myself of where I am. Right now, I am vulnerable, and that is ok too. Tears run down my cheeks. I take a cue from my dog and I let myself feel compassion for my pain, I am patient with it. I take another deep breath. I rub one of his velvet ears and then the other. I bring conscious awareness to my movements. I shrug my shoulders and stretch my neck. I wipe my tears with the soft sleeve of my sweater. As my crying begins to subside I sink a little deeper into the couch. My body relaxes. My dog looks up and licks a tear from the tip of my nose, as if to reassure me “you are here, you are safe, it is OK.”
It is OK…
OK to check out sometimes
Ok to cry
OK to be human
OK to be present
OK to feel
The Art of Crying
Let’s take a minute to appreciate the art of crying. People can be “wracked with tears” or cry their heart out, “shed a tear” or “well up.” And we all have that image that comes to mind when we think about the infamous “ugly cry.” Tears might “burst forth” from the eyes or “cascade down” the face. We sob, wail, and keen. Crying is an inherent part of the human experience. So where does that reluctance to cry come from?
Have you ever felt like if you start crying you’ll become a completely overwhelmed inconsolable puddle of emotions? I’ve been there, I can relate. But, what if the opposite were true? What if by suppressing our tears we are actually wallowing in a welled up pool of emotion that is keeping us from healing and recovering? Dare I say crying may actually be healthy!
Here comes the research (Now I'm a super nerd so I think this part is fascinating. But I also have very little patience so, don't tell anyone, but sometimes I skip this bit and jump right into the "how to" section of articles. Feel free to skip this next paragraph if you wanna just dig right in to the tips and tricks. No judging here. But knowing the background sometimes helps when thinking about and embracing a new concept. So if you get a chance, come back and take a gander at the research. Or if you are a nerd like me, I see you out there! Enjoy yourself, I've even added references just for you).
Research indicates that crying is associated with the activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for calming and soothing the mind and body. Crying has also been shown to reduce the release of Cortisol, also referred to as the “stress hormone,” indicating that crying may help to alleviate stress. In general, crying appears to improve mood. In cases of crying associated with pain or health conditions, evidence indicates crying may promote recovery and the healing process. From a psychosocial perspective, crying may motivate individuals to make positive changes toward resolving the conditions that initially triggered the emotional distress. Crying also elicits social support, which can help individuals access the resources needed to effectively work through any conflicts or challenges associated with the distress their experiencing. (Research references listed below. Just give me a break on the formatting. It's been a minute since college.)
Have yourself a good cry
Find that space that is all your own. Find solitude. Surround yourself with your creature comforts. Or your actual creatures. Open the windows to let in the light. Put on those trusty old sweatpants. Whatever helps you to feel safe, calm, or comfortable.
Find a Friend
Contrary to how it might feel sometimes, you do not exist alone on an island. Find a shoulder to cry on, hug it out, or let it all out with some cry talking (just don’t expect the person you’re with to understand you). Sometimes the presence of someone else, someone we trust or maybe someone who can relate, is just what we need to open the floodgates.
Cry in the wild!
Crying doesn’t have to be that movie scene experience where the crier is curled up alone in a dark room. Some of the best cries I’ve had have been over a pile of laundry (it’s not for everyone, but for me folding laundry is pure zen). Engaging in some kind of activity also helps us to experience our emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Cry while you garden, when you walk the dog, or even while you’re exercising. Brings a whole new meaning to “working it out.”
Rely on Resources
Still worried about getting lost in the chasm of crying? Remind yourself that emotions are inherent human experiences that are temporary and naturally transition. Sometimes we might be working through some tough stuff and one cry might just not be enough. And sometimes we just need a break from crying. Keep a list of resources you can turn to for support. Include things like “happy songs,” enjoyable distractions, and uplifting places. If you find that the load is too heavy to bear, find a mental health professional to help you unpack it. Most areas also have a local Crisis Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 (call 1-800-273-8255). You can also text the Crisis Text Line (also available 24/7) throughout the US, UK, and Canada by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 85258 (UK), or 686868 (Canada).
Interested in the research used for this article? Check out the resources below:
Vingerhoets, A. & Bylsma, L.(2007) Crying and Health: Popular and Scientific Conceptions. Psychological Topics 16(2), p.275-296. Retrieved from https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/32146
Vingerhoets, A., Bylsma, L., Rottenberg, J. (2009). Crying: A Biopsychosocial Phenomenon. DOI: 10.1515.9783110214024. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254794360_Crying_A_biopsychosocial_phenomenon