Crying is better for your health than you realize

Nobody looks forward to crying, whether alone or in the presence of someone else. But there are some surprising benefits to letting it all out for both the mind and body. Whether it's instigated by pain, sadness, or even joy, the body uses crying to cleanse and restore balance. On average, American women cry about 3.5 times per month while American men cry about 1.9 times per month, according to a study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion.

There are three kinds of tears, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Basal tears are constantly in your eyes to lubricate and protect them. Reflex tears arrive when the body needs to wash away irritants like dust or smoke. Emotional tears are the ones produced by a heightened emotional state like anxiety, joy, or sadness. While basal and reflex tears are mostly comprised of water, emotional tears are laced with stress hormones that the body flushes out, according to Psychology Today.

What happens when we cry?

When a triggering event happens, whether joy or sorrow, the body perceives it as stress. The brain, adrenal gland, kidneys, and sympathetic nervous system work in concert to release hormones that prepare the body for fight-or-flight (per Livestrong). Your heart and lungs react, speeding up breathing and heart rate, and extra blood flow is directed to the muscles in case you need to move quickly to avoid danger.

Crying is one of the body's ways to restore balance. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and the brain releases oxytocin to help us relax from the heightened state. This process dulls pain, lifts mood, and helps us self-soothe. Holding back tears can leave the body stress-activated. Long-term exposure to stress has been cited as a factor in problems like heart disease, obesity, digestion issues, anxiety, and depression.

Crying also engenders emotional support and lets others know we need a hand, according to Healthline. It's an important way we communicate with others and build a social support structure. So, when the urge strikes, if you can, do your body and mind a favor by letting the tears flow.