The health benefits of crying

Tina Patel Tina Patel
Monday, 11 March 2024
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People cry for all sorts of reasons - happiness, to express grief, and even as a natural response to our environment. Whether you’re outside on a windy day, putting in contact lenses, or at home chopping onions, tears can be triggered for all sorts of reasons, and we really shouldn’t be stopping them.

There are many health benefits of crying, both psychological and physiological, and in fact, humans are the only creatures to cry emotional tears. In this article, we will cover the health benefits of crying, discuss the different types of tears, and list the top 10 saddest movies to watch to get those tears flowing.

What are the different types of tears?

We cry three types of tears - emotional, basal and reflex - and each has a unique benefit to our bodies.

Emotional tears

As the name suggests, emotional tears are triggered by an emotional or painful response and can be quite upsetting. However, the experience associated with emotional tears can promote social bonding and improve relationships as you are comforted by friends and family. Additionally, these tears release oxytocin and endorphins that help to relieve pain, self-soothe and endorse a sense of well-being.

Emotional tears contain a higher level of hormones and proteins that are not found in basal and reflex tears. One theory for this is that the higher protein content makes emotional tears more sticky, making them more visible as a means to enhance those social relationships.

Basal tears

Basal tears protect the cornea by keeping your eyes nourished and act as a barrier from dirt and other impurities. By acting as a constant shield, not only do basal tears protect your eyes from debris, but they also work to improve your vision.

Reflex tears

Although basal tears work to protect your eyes from debris, some dust and dirt can occasionally still get into your eye. Consequently, reflex tears fall to help rinse the eye of these irritants. Even when wearing glasses, it's important to note that tears serve as a natural defence mechanism, flushing out irritants and pollutants that may cause discomfort or harm to our eyes. All in all, tears are essential for protecting your eyes from infections and irritants, whilst providing other social benefits.

The top 10 saddest movies according to Reddit

From tears of joy to tears of sadness, we all have that one movie that stirred our emotions like no other, but which movies are most likely to make you cry and best for encouraging eye health?

We analysed over 4,000 comments from Reddit on forums related to sad movies and counted the combined number of upvotes (similar to a ‘like’ on other social media platforms) to rank the top 10 saddest movies.

  1. Grave of the Fireflies
  2. Manchester by the Sea
  3. Aftersun
  4. The Green Mile
  5. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
  6. Pixar's Coco
  7. Life is Beautiful
  8. Bridge to Terabithia
  9. Dancer in the Dark
  10. About Time

According to the data, Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is the saddest movie of all time with 1,390 upvotes and many admissions of tears.

One Redditor commented, “Grave of the Fireflies is a heart-wrenching truth that just happens to be in a cartoon format. I can’t think of another film that has made me cry harder than that one.”

The Japanese animation, directed by Isao Takahata (co-founder of Studio Ghibli), depicts the devastating impact of World War II on two siblings in Japan. It explores themes of loss, resilience, and the human spirit amidst the harsh realities of war.

Another Redditor added, “Grave of the Fireflies was the best movie I'll never watch again.”

Ranking second on the list with 730 upvotes is Manchester by the Sea (2016). The movie stars Casey Affleck as Lee, who becomes the named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, following his brother’s death. The tragedy pushes Lee to return to his hometown and confront his past.

Amongst the comments posted read, “Devastating, harrowing, crushing, absolutely the most heart-wrenching movie I have ever seen, and nothing comes close.”

The data revealed the third saddest movie to be Aftersun with 522 upvotes. Released in 2022, this is the most modern movie to make the top 10 list, and Redditors had many emotions to share about the coming-of-age story. One comment read that it had them “in absolute shambles. I still can’t hear under pressure without crying.” Whilst another shared, “I was crying for a full 15 minutes at 2am.”

Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts, commented: “Studies have found the act of crying to have many benefits, and emotional tears are particularly healthy to relieve distress and pain due to their self-soothing nature. Crying can help us to process emotions and you can even experience an enhanced mood afterwards due to the release of endorphins and oxytocin.

“Watching a sad movie can help us to initiate emotional crying, in turn, inducing the above health benefits. If you can watch a sad movie with company, then this is even better. Crying among others promotes social bonding, and encourages us to respond with kindness and compassion, which deepens human connection.

Some medications that can affect our ability to produce tears are:

  • Antidepressants
  • Birth control pills
  • Antihistamines
  • Blood pressure tablets

“It’s important to remember that crying is a positive form of relief and allows us to demonstrate our emotional connection with the world and people around us.”

This campaign is for entertainment purposes only. Crying is a normal human response to emotions and has many health benefits. However, if you find yourself crying frequently, it could be a sign of depression. Please seek support from an HSE mental health expert.

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