Last week, HBO Max posted a screengrab from this sequence across Twitter and Instagram. It was accompanied by a calendar on mobile showing 4 pm slotted for ‘Cry’. The picture, captioned “My 4 o’clock always runs long”, has thousands of users engaging in a conversation around “scheduling grief” — a phrase that Siobhan’s husband, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), uses in the scene.
It speaks to Shambhavi Varma directly. “Unlike our parents’ generation, I understand crying helps me release emotions so I’m not afraid to be sad. When I was in college, I had no responsibility and all the time to focus on my emotions,” says the 25-year-old product designer from Delhi. “Now, with a full-time job, my life revolves around a schedule. I don’t know where or how to fit crying into this schedule,” she adds.
Traditionally, crying was seen as a sign of weakness, something one avoids doing in public. However, with growing mental health awareness and the collective grief of dealing with over 6 million deaths worldwide due to Covid, “showing emotions in public, including crying, may have become a new normal”, a Harvard Health blog published in March 2021 notes. The stigma around crying is far from over—people are apologetic about crying even in therapy sessions where it can lead to breakthroughs. Those in wealthy democratic countries cry more often than the rest, as per a paper published in the American scientific journal Psychotherapy in 2020. But an associated problem — the inability to shed tears when we really want to — is manifesting on the internet in different ways.
Crying tips and tutorials on YouTube and YouTube Shorts rake in hundreds of thousands of views and some heartbreaking comments. “I never thought I’ll be searching for this video,” reads a recent comment from a user named Trisha Patra on a YouTube clip titled ‘How To Cry Step-by-Step’. “I’ve been trying to cry since I lost my dad in 2012. I can’t. Hope this video helps [me],” says another comment from last month. Three weeks ago, a user named Noman Laskar, wrote in the same section: “Many times I try to cry but my tears don’t come out.” Even videos meant to aid actors in being able to cry on cue are filled with comments from people looking for ways to induce emotional crying.
Earlier this year, hundreds of social media users made TikToks and Reels using the chorus of singer-songwriter Sam Smith’s lesser-known soundtrack, How To Cry, that released in January. The lyrics of this portion go thus: Cause nobody taught you how to cry/ But somebody showed you how to lie/ All of the feelings you don’t show/ Are all of the reasons to let go.
In February, Srishti A, a 27-year-old cyber strategy consultant from Mumbai, tweeted about being sad but not being able to cry. “Before social media took over our lives, you had fewer distractions so you had no other option but to sit with your emotions,” she says. “These days, we just go to Reels to tune out and hope that our limited attention spans will make us forget about our emotional upheaval,” she adds. Srishti is therefore not surprised some of this helplessness has culminated in people looking to the internet to also find a way to shake their lacrimal glands.
Does any of it help though? The comments section has a generous mix of 1-star and 5-star reviews. “Looking up ‘how to cry’ on the internet has come up in therapy sessions,” says Supriya Puri, a trauma therapist with a focus on bodyoriented therapy, expressive art, and somatic work. “But it hasn’t been able to create a major shift because social media, much like the fast food culture, doesn’t cater to unique emotions,” she adds.
Broadly, people struggle with crying because they are disconnected from their bodies, says Puri. “This disconnect is often by choice and by design. It is an act of survival, an endemic.” However, the issues with crying are multi-dimensional, she notes. “Some people are aware of the need to cry, some are oblivious, others are aware but not able to feel their bodies.”
Utkarsh H struggles with crying because he has difficulty recognising emotions, he says. “A couple of years ago, I found out I was on the autism spectrum. I often find myself emotionally overwhelmed not knowing what will help me release my emotions,” says the 31-year-old IT professional from Bengaluru.
Divyanshu Meena, a 26-year-old student from Narmadapuram, Madhya Pradesh, says crying doesn’t help him unless he has someone to hold him while he cries. Meena, who just cleared his UPSC exam, says his problem is finding a safe space to cry, one that consists of other people. “And till you don’t cry in front of someone, you can’t tell if it’s a safe space or not.”
People may struggle with crying if they’ve had a traumatic or abusive childhood where crying may have led to more punishment or shaming, says Farah Maneckshaw, a therapist who focuses on gender, sexuality, trauma, disability and their intersections. “So, a part of us shuts off that [crying] mechanism even though we are wired to feel those emotions.”
Sometimes, an inability to cry is also a result of medical conditions that can affect tear production, says Aruna Gopakumar, psychotherapist and co-author of ‘And How Do You Feel About That’. “Some medications can impact the ability to cry, too,” adds Gopakumar.
Countries like the UK and Japan have crying clubs where you pay people to help you cry. India is catching up, too. In 2017, laughter therapist Kamlesh Masalawala set up Healthy Crying Club in Surat, Gujarat. The club draws members “as young as 20 and as old as 80,” as per a recent article published in mental health platform called Sanity by Tanmoy.
Why is there a crying need to shed tears? “Research shows that crying activates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that carry signals to alert our body or relax its systems respectively,” says Ashutosh Singh, a psychiatrist with Apollo Hospital, Indore. “Crying helps create a sense of relief, and crying in a safe space can create social bonding, and promote sympathy/empathy,” he adds. “For doctors, a patient crying in front of them is often an acknowledgement of their expertise, because the patient feels the doctors can be trusted.”
Mental health professionals recommend journaling and therapy from skilled professionals to those struggling with crying. Meanwhile, internet culture helps turn the discourse around crying from suppressing tears to the importance of letting it all out… one tweet, post, and reel at a time.
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