Cry babies, beware: A recent study suggests sob fests don’t always improve a miserable mood. In fact, shedding a torrent of tears can sometimes make people feel even worse.

Cry Me a River — Why It Matters

Photo by Marissa Angell

Rumor has it that a good cry is a great way to relieve stress Crying That Heals: Concept Evaluation. Griffith, M.B., Hall, J.M., Fields, B. Bethel University. Journal of Holistic Nursing 2011. . For years, scientists believed crying alleviated a buildup of tension and negative emotions. Some researchers even proposed tears as a personal waste-disposal mechanism that helped rid the body of stress-induced chemicals.

But back off those canoe paddles— a river of tears isn’t always a cathartic cure-all. Research suggests the psychological effects of crying depend on the personality of the crier and the specific situation Emotional tears. Messmer, E.M. Augenklinik der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Mathildenstrasse 8, München. Opthalmologe 2009; 106(7): 593-602. . Criers who feel ashamed won’t get much of a mood boost, but those who have social support might— so no pointing and laughing at the guy hogging the Kleenex.

For Crying Out Loud — The Answer/Debate

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to… get sympathy from friends? There’s some evidence that, while crying itself can be a negative emotional experience, it can prompt others to offer their help and support. One study shows adults are more likely to help people if they’re crying Social reactions to adult crying: the help-soliciting function of tears. Hendriks, M.C., Croon, M.A., Vingerhoets, A.J. Journal of Social Psychology 2008; 148(1): 22-41. . Another study shows people recognize a sad face more easily when they can see some tears.

Crying might not make troubles disappear, but in some cases, tears can actually boost moods. Studies suggest when people experience a positive event or personal improvement, they feel better after crying. Still, it’s unclear why people cry when they’re happy, though some researchers believe tears of joy are also a way to drain excess energy.

In any case, it’s rarely a good idea to hold back tears (Miss America sure doesn’t)— especially for fear of humiliation. People generally tend to feel better when they cry in the company of another person. So, if there’s a load those eyes can’t bear, pick a pal and let it out.

Certainty Level

Paula Abdul asks American Idol contestants to guess how she feels about them.

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