Study Suggests Crying Can Help With Emotion Regulation
A recent study completed by Sharman, Dingle, Vingerhoets, and Vanman (2019) suggests that crying can help an individual maintain stable breathing rates despite being emotionally distressed. The study included 197 undergraduate students in Australia who were separated into two group: those that watched a neutral video vs. those that watched a sad video. Following the video, participants completed a physical stress task (putting hand in cold water). Results indicated that cortisol levels (stress hormone) between the groups were similar, however, respiration and heart rates were lower for the crying group vs. the non-criers or neutral group, In addition, results indicated that heart rates slowed down just before crying and then returned to baseline. This study lends support to the self-soothing nature of crying and the role it plays in allowing one to self-regulate during an emotional experience. Not only does crying assist in returning the body back to its natural state, but it serves as a signal to others as to how you are feeling and cue others to help. So the next time your little one is struggling with emotions, rather than asserting they "stop crying!," consider sitting with them and letting him or her feel her feelings and being there as a silent source of support. Sometimes just being with your child, not offering solutions or trying to "fix" things right away shows them that you are capable of holding the big stuff--because if what he or she is going through is too much for them, and too much for the grownups around them...then how can they possibly survive this emotional wave?
Reference: Sharman, Leah & Dingle, Genevieve & Vingerhoets, Ad & Vanman, Eric. (2019). Using crying to cope: Physiological responses to stress following tears of sadness. Emotion. 10.1037/emo0000633.