Crying is cleansing, helping us process emotions, embrace grief, and relieve stress and anxiety. But while crying can work wonders for our mental health, it can also leave us feeling puffy, drained, and, even with a major headache.
After a long cry sesh, I always take a shower, put a warm washcloth on my forehead, or pop a pain reliever to help - those lingering, post-cry headaches are the worst! But I'll always take more advice, so I talked to two doctors for help understanding why, exactly, crying can cause headaches and what can be done to prevent it.
What's the scientific reason crying gives you a headache?
The act of crying can be stressful on the body, which is one reason doctors think it can cause a headache. "Scientists don't know exactly why people sometimes experience a headache after crying," Natasha Bhuyan, MD, West Coast regional medical director at One Medical, told POPSUGAR. "However, one theory is the emotional response from crying causes a trigger of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which in turn lead to a headache."
Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, co-founder and chief medical officer at TeleMed2U, agreed: "Crying can result from stress, which can cause the body to release stress hormones, including cortisol. These stress hormones can cause headaches along with a runny and stuffy nose."
Leaking a few tears while watching The Notebook for the hundredth time probably isn't going to cause a headache, but a long, emotional cry might. It all has to do with the amount of stress it causes. "The greater the stress, the longer the stress, and the greater the release of stress hormones," said Dr. Siddiqui. "I would say intensity of stress and duration of stress will impact the degree of headache you experience from crying."
However, much is still not known about this phenomenon. Dr. Bhuyan added: "Scientists are not sure if there is a correlation between the duration of crying or the underlying reason for tears and a subsequent headache."
What should you do to treat a crying-induced headache?
"The best approach is self-care: rest and hydration," said Dr. Bhuyan. "For some people, an over-the-counter medication might be appropriate as well."
Dr. Siddiqui added, "Some researchers have suggested reducing tension can reduce the stress hormones and can assist with eliminating the headaches. Try a cold compress on your eyes or on the back of your neck. Some people may benefit from NSAIDs, if they can safely use these medications."
As always, if you have any concerns - like if your headache isn't going away or it happens often - you should reach out to your primary care provider for help. Crying is natural and often therapeutic, and you shouldn't have to suffer after-effects like annoying headaches afterward. Take care of yourself and remember to give yourself extra grace when you've been crying or sad.