Along with helping you vent emotions, crying may also play a role in regulating breathing, a new study has found.
Published in the journal Emotion, researchers found that “crying may assist in generally maintaining biological homeostasis, perhaps consciously through self-soothing via purposeful breathing and unconsciously through regulation of heart rate.”
Study author Leah Sharman of the University of Queensland, told Psypost,
"“We became interested in this topic when trying to understand the different possible ways that crying might function to help us, and to try to get a different perspective on why crying is so widely associated with feeling better.”"
“One of the main ways that crying is often thought about is that it gets rid of toxins or brings about some kind of biological change that helps us to deal with stressful or painful situations. So we thought it would be interesting to try to test that.”
The researcher studied 197 female undergraduate students who were randomly assigned to watch sad or emotionally neutral videos. Almost fifty percent of those in the ‘sad video’ group started crying. Through a Cold Pressor Stress Test (making them place their hand in nearly freezing water), their heart and respiration were monitored. Their saliva samples were also examined.
Respiration rate increased in the neutral group and noncriers while watching the videos, with criers’ respiration remaining stable. Furthermore, heart rate was found to decelerate just before crying, with a return to baseline during the first crying period.
Leah Sharman explained, “Firstly, crying doesn’t seem to provide any change to stress hormones or our ability to cope with physical stressors to a degree that might be meaningful if you hurt yourself. Secondly, and what was our main finding, is that crying seems to assist in keeping our body stable and calm by slowing down and regulating our breathing and our heart rate.”
“The major caveat with this research is that we don’t know if these reactions are typical in real-world settings where you might be crying because of grief or loss, for example, or if there are differences if someone else is present with you when you cry,” Sharman said.
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