Don’t Hold Back Your Tears, Here’s Why

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When we think of crying, we usually relate it to some form of grief, pain (emotional or physical), shame or guilt. We cry for a lot of reasons!

I remember once becoming very emotional about a touching gift I received. The sniffling began as soon as I opened it: a pretty hand-made photo collage of my family through the years.  My crying stopped just short of a full-fledged waterworks… but yet I was so happy! Happiness is a cause for tears too, as you know.

When women cry, it sends various unspoken signals to men, that sex is off the table tonight (arousal goes down in men almost instantly) and also sends the signal to them be kinder, more thoughtful and soft-spoken. Neuroscientists are still not sure of the biological reasons behind this, but a man’s aggression softens when a woman cries.

If the crying is nonstop, like Ashley from The Bachelor who experiences unrequited love with Jared… well, you kind of get desensitized to her spells, and then annoyed by them. (I think she cried 7 times in one episode!) So to be fair, crying shouldn’t be a daily event, if you know what I mean.

Crying happens to men and to women, young and old, sick and healthy. Women will tear up more easily during the 7 days prior to their menstrual cycle, which probably has to do with the natural drop in serotonin.

What Triggers the Tearfest?
Any type of emotional surge, be it positive or negative, can trigger tears. Like when you pick up your elderly grandma at the airport, and then again when you drop her off for her departure.  Crying is natural, it happens all the time, and you may notice it’s easier to cry in the shower. This is the case for many people. Scientists are trying to figure out why people do this but it’s really not that hard to explain. For one, you can cry alone, no one needs to see you being vulnerable.  Also, it’s warm and comfy in the shower and so is letting out those tears. The soothing hot water and cathartic meltdown can be very comforting in combination. Crying in solitude in a hot shower is actually quite common!

Sometimes we cry when we see an “I’ll never let go, Jack” moment in a movie. When I was pregnant with my daughter Samara in 1989, I remember crying at some random moment during the whale movie Orca. To this day I recall how good it felt to let those tears out and blow my nose. Now, I’m not usually a frequent crier, but when I do cry it is usually provoked by grief, or the fear of losing someone I love… or, I’ll admit it, sometimes a really touching movie. Or if I experience a severe injury, like the time I almost cut off my finger while chopping an onion – ouch!

What’s in Tears?
Tears contain a lot of things, but the most interesting chemical components are endorphins. That’s why crying makes you feel better. The sense of relief you experience after crying comes from “feel-good” hormones (endorphins) and neurotransmitters that are released during the episode. Emotional crying contains leucine-enkephalin, an endorphin which improves mood and reduces pain. When you cry, you can feel yourself start to settle down almost instantly after a few minutes of shedding tears. As an added effect, our emotional pain tolerance increases after we have cried. This is human nature.  Emotional tears also contain prolactin, which is a hormone that is responsible for milk production for breastfeeding babies.  Prolactin happens to soar after an orgasm in women, explaining why some women cry after sex.

Now before you go plop on the couch and watch your favorite Nicholas Sparks movie hoping for that post-cry high, here are some interesting facts about the effects of crying related to your body and your mood that may improve the way you think (and feel) about crying. In fact, understanding what I’m about to tell you might improve relationships with people you know who tend to cry easily… or if you’re a frequent crier, help your loved ones understand you. Let me explain some of the benefits of tears:

Crying contributes to weight loss & stress reduction.
Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? Stress-induced crying contains higher levels of stress hormones as compared to non-stress-related tears. Stress-crying releases toxins that assist the body in ridding itself of chemicals that are known to raise cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that puts fat around your belly and so controlling that could contribute to weight loss. More than that, cortisol is a coping hormone that needs to be in balance with DHEA and other hormones; otherwise you are a human stress ball! Releasing cortisol in every tear could help you, so don’t fight the urge to cry.Your stress-induced crying episode allows you to release toxins with every tear. There are many psychologists who say that to help maintain your mental health, you should allow yourself to cry regularly and not allow your stress or emotions to remain bottled up inside you. So in a way, not only does crying improve your mental state, it also cleanses you of these toxins.

Crying keeps your eyes healthy.
When your eyes become dry or dusty, crying can naturally lubricate your eyes, therefore naturally improving your vision without the need for eye drops. When you get an eyelash in your eye, what do you do? You tear up. Why? Because tears help clear the eye of clutter that doesn’t belong, such as eyelashes and other debris (and fingers if you keep poking around in there to reach that painful little lash that just won’t get out). I always found this odd because one of the main purposes of your eyelashes is to help prevent debris from falling into the eye itself. Now I don’t know about you, but 99% percent of the “debris” in my eye are my own eyelashes! Not very helpful if you ask me, but thank goodness for tears washing away those pesky runaway lashes.

Tears are antibacterial.
An article published by Medical Daily found that tears (which contain lysozyme) can kill 90-95 percent of bacteria in under ten minutes! For you Harry Potter fans out there, think of Fawkes, the Phoenix, whose tears could heal and restore. Crying is a self-healing mechanism that we have used from the time we were born. Just because we’re all grown up now doesn’t mean we need to cry any less.

Crying improves communication.
Babies cannot speak, so they let you know about their discomfort by crying. It’s a natural response. As an adult, when you feel frustrated and unable to express yourself with words, crying can be a way convey your feelings.  It can improve communication between two or more people because, as you know, a picture is worth a thousand words.  When you cry, your level of anger, frustration, pain or sadness is on full display.  Tears can help to underline our point when our words simply lack the full scope. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s usually a sign of emotional strength. It takes trust to expose our vulnerable selves to other people.Studies have found that when we cry in a social setting, rather than alone in our homes, observers are more likely to show support and have a higher willingness to provide comfort during our moment of emotional candor. As I said in one of my most popular blogs, 6 Lessons Learned from Old People, crying is sometimes the only way you can speak when your mouth can’t explain how desperate you are in your body.

Some cultures revere tears.
While I was researching this article, Web MD remarked upon the Japanese beliefs about shedding tears and noted that in Japan, crying is valued at such a high rank that they have crying clubs called rui-katsu, which translates to “tear-seeking.”  Contrast that with us here in the United States, where well-intentioned practitioners commonly prescribe antidepressants for even mild depression. If you cry while talking with your physician about your symptoms, you are almost guaranteed a referral to a psychiatrist, and/or a prescription to try a tranquilizer or mood booster. In Japan, and many other parts of the world, crying is not automatically considered an indicator of mental illness.  Here in the US, doctors often consider crying a telltale sign of mental illness, and people in general consider it a sign of weakness.

I’m here to tell you that tears are nothing to be ashamed of, and if anything, they will leave you feeling more empowered than if you tried to play it cool or conceal your pain.

Whether you cry alone in the shower, in the arms of a partner or on the shoulder of a friend, it would be a disservice to yourself, your mental health and your body to prevent the occasional relief that emotional crying provides. In order to restore balance to both your body and mind, embrace the lacrimation! To me, when people cry, it’s a sign of emotional intelligence and sensitivity. Women tend to be better at the whole “expressing emotions” thing, but I know some pretty amazing men and the best ones let their guard down, talk openly and shed tears once in a while. It’s a sign of trust, and it helps build intimacy.  So, let those tears out, friends, knowing that there’s a whole lot of good going on in your body when you do.

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