Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Health Benefits of Tears. Have You Had a Good Cry Lately?

I know precisely the last time I cried. It was earlier this year when I got married. I couldn't hold back the tears as I recited my marriage vows... and I cried again the next day as I said goodbye to my adult children who live out of state. The vow tears were of complete joy for finally arriving at a time in life that I had long dreamed of -- marrying my best friend and the love of my life. The goodbye tears were of deep love for my children and knowing how much I would miss them.

I remember the first time I saw my father cry. It was in 1982 when he told me and my siblings that my mother had cancer. I was 17 years of age. I recall that as I was growing up, my father did not openly show tears to his children. However, the thought of possibly losing his wife -- my Mom -- brought his eyes to the tearful tipping point. To the relief of my entire family, my mother beat cancer and continues to enjoy life by my Dad's side -- both of them in their 80's. I recently read an article in Psychology Today about the health benefits of tears and I want to share some of that information with you.

Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, pain, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Also, you can have tears of joy, say when a child is born or tears of relief when a difficulty has passed. Personally, I am grateful when I can cry. It feels cleansing... a way to purge pent up emotions so they don’t take root inside of me. It has been said that for both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.

Like the ocean, tears contain salt. Our bodies contain a cup of salt, In fact, every cell in your body contains salt. Tears protectively lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes. Our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional.  Each kind has different healing roles. For instance, reflex tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust. The second kind, continuous tears, are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated (these contain a chemical called "lysozyme" which functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection). Tears also travel to the nose through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.

Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and "tear expert" Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and "feel-good" hormones. Essentially, crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. Don't hold those tears back!

My eldest daughter recently told me that I've gotten more 'soft' as I've aged... that I'm more open to crying. I admit that she is right. I don't recall crying much as I grew up. I had loved ones depart, but didn't shed many tears along the way. I'm now 53, but it has probably been within the last 10 years that I've gotten more comfortable with tearful emotions.

In my opinion, it's good to cry... it's healthy to cry. It helps to emotionally clear sadness and stress. Crying is also essential to resolve grief, when waves of tears periodically come over us after we experience a loss. Tears help us process the loss so we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are a set up for depression if we suppress these potent feelings.

Don't be ashamed to cry. Instead, embrace it as a strong emotional release.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso