Ugly-Cry Through ‘This Is Us’? Here’s What the Waterworks Can Mean for Your Emotional Health

Photo: Getty Images/ Vivien Killilea
My childhood security blanket is wrapped firmly around my face, my mascara is smudged to oblivion, and a snotty mixture is globbing from my nose to my mouth. This is how my roommate finds me when a new episode This Is Us airs. Each Tuesday I have a good, raw, gasping-for-air cry, along with many of the millions of viewers who tune in to willingly let the NBC program emotionally annihilate them every week. (The actors have gone so far as to record a dramatic PSA apologizing for making everyone weep.)

For me, the urge to consume this show is almost compulsive. It's a weekly boogery mess I can’t—or simply don’t want to—quit. While I (half) jokingly call my date with the show my good-cry appointment of the week, as season three sets to air on Tuesday, September 25th, I'm not quite sure whether the habit is actually healthy.

According to one expert though, it might be me who's being dramatic about this whole thing. “In my opinion, emotional annihilation is less accurate a term than emotional catharsis for the effect of This Is Us,” New York City–based therapist, Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW, tells me. Touché.

“Crying is a healthy way to feel your feelings and let them go. If a TV show can help get you there, that is okay. That is healthy.” —Courtney Glashow, psychotherapist

In fact, crying could probably stand to undergo a reputation reinvention, as it's widely regarded as being totally negative, and that's totally not the case. One expert even says the act can feel good. "These emotional shows—be it This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, or Parenthood—give us the opportunity to express ourselves," says Courtney Glashow, LCSW, founder and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey. “Someone may have a bad day and then turn on a show that makes them cry. They’re able to release the emotion that they held in all day. Crying is a healthy way to feel your feelings and let them go. If a TV show can help get you there, that is okay. That is healthy,” she says.

Plus, the subject matter in shows like This Is Us facilitate certain realities of life, namely that stressors and problems are real, yet relative, obstacles all people face. “As humans, we love to know that we’re not alone," Dr. Smerling says. "This show touches on universal truths about love, addiction, suffering, and grief—which are all very human experiences.”

However, there is at least one caveat to the happy-tears news: “Watching This Is Us could become too much for someone who is not able to fully separate themselves from the fictional show,” she says. “That response shows that you’re overly investing in a fictional character's pain. If you’re experiencing debilitating sadness, can’t function at work, or find yourself thinking about the show constantly, Dr. Smerling says to turn off the TV and seek expert help. And if you recognize in friends or loved ones signs of hopelessness after watching an episode, ask them how they’re doing and how you can help.

Otherwise, stock up on tissues—because on Tuesdays, we ugly cry.

There's actually a science-backed reason why crying makes us feel better. And here’s why it’s okay to let the waterworks flow at work.

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