Why tearjerking TV is good for you

There can be a "real psychological benefit" to sobbing in front of Call the Midwife or wailing during One Born Every Minute, reveals an expert

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TV is a powerful thing. It can entertain us, teach us things – and leave us tear-soaked, shaking and sobbing into our slankets. But while it may be initially upsetting, could telly that makes us cry actually be good for us? 

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I’ve always suspected so. I’m a big fan of settling down in front of something emotional and letting it all out. And it seems science is on my side…

“TV that makes us cry is absolutely good for us,” clinical psychologist Dr Abigeal San tells RadioTimes.com. “Crying is very cathartic and stress reducing. There can be build ups of tension for all sorts of different reasons and it helps us to process it when we cry. If watching TV is helping you to do that then that’s helpful. There is a real psychological benefit.” 

TV that tugs at the heartstrings can be especially useful when the tears aren’t flowing in real life too. If it’s been a while since you last let yourself sob, a stint in front of a show like One Born Every Minute or Call the Midwife can bring a cathartic release you didn’t even realise you needed. Because never letting your cheeks get wet isn’t good for us. “It’s a bad thing. No one goes through life without ever experiencing uncomfortable feelings of sadness, distress or loss. For people who don’t cry, that sort of builds up within you, becomes toxic and it will seep out in other ways.” 

Sometimes, though, crying can be tough. “As a nation we are much more psychologically open than we were,” says Dr Abigael, but she admits that it’s still often perceived as a sign of emotional weakness, and it’s certainly not encouraged in the professional worlds we inhabit for most of the week.

That can mean that we struggle to express our emotions – and that’s where the goggle box comes in extra handy, because crying in front of the TV is safer and easier than wailing at work or tearing up on the Tube. “It can be easier to attach tears to TV than to honestly attach it to something that is happening within yourself,” says Dr Abigeal. 

And sobbing in front of 24 Hours in A&E is apparently just as cathartic as crying because of a break-up, redundancy or bad day. “The same sort of process is happening,” she assures us. 

In fact, just watching sad TV could help us feel better, even if we don’t find ourselves actually reaching for the tissues. “It’s still cathartic to an extent,” says Dr Abigeal. “There might be an amount of letting those emotions out just by letting yourself feel that feeling.” 

All in all, we should be eschewing those stiff upper lips because “crying is a very healthy thing to do”. And tearjerking telly? “It helps you to put things in perspective or understand more about difficult situations or difficult emotions. It gives you an outlet for your own emotions.”

Right, someone pass the tissues…

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Dr Abigael San is a clinical psychologist drabigaelsan.co.uk