Tears – A Sign of Vigorous Health
Tears, they show up when we don’t want them to. It can be embarrassing when you are caught in a meeting or other inconvenient moment when tears suddenly flood your eyes. You blink rapidly and breathe deeply in an attempt to choke back the flood that threatens to engulf and humiliate.
Tears, at the same time, can be maddeningly absent. When a teary thank you may be in order, they suddenly betray us and are nowhere to be found.
On the harder end, those that struggle with depression know, that when the plethora of tears dry up, it can often leave you in a really dark place.
Babies in utero blissfully float in a sac of fluid with all good things being delivered straight into their tiny bodies through a magical cord. Food, vitamins, and oxygen all come flooding through that miracle channel without any effort on their part. Little do they know, in a few torturous hours, they now will have to convince someone to feed then. No longer will it be magically delivered as a side benefit of simply being alive.
At the point of birth, after being relentlessly squished, twisted and tormented, they emerge from their dark cocoon into a harsh, cold world. The endless source of all good things delivered effortlessly is about to end. Their connection between their mom and their very core is about to be severed permanently.
When the inevitable happens, for the first time the little babe screams! Screams!!! This burst of crying is what everyone in the room has been waiting hours to hear. The strength of that cry is used as a quantifying measure of initial health. The babies that cry the hardest are considered the healthiest. .
When does that change?
My mind is drawn to a picture of a woman. Lonely and overwhelmed with grief. Walking through a park with tears running down her face and whisked quickly away. Her survival link to one of the closest people in her life has been severed. She feels it at her very core. Overwhelmed she drops to the ground, like a rag tossed aside, and lets loose a guttural cry. She, on the ground in a mess of hair, and tears, and leaves and sobs is not considered strong. When did that change?
Interesting isn’t it that at birth, the strength of a baby is in part measured by the vigorousness of the cry. Yet as an adult the sign of strength is often seen as how much you can endure without telltale tears.
Life is Hard.
So we spend our adult lives, choking back tears, either out of habit or for fear of looking silly, ugly, or weak.. We become adept at distracting and avoiding when we find the tears welling up in our eyes. When was the last time you cried and just let the tear flow? When was the last time you sat with someone who just held you while you cried?
As a counsellor, I regularly hear people apologize for their tears. Incredulously, they are sharing the hardest most gut-wrenching stories of their lives with me and they apologize. Why are they apologizing? It’s almost like tears are a belligerent toddler that is running out of control and they are horribly embarrassed by the inconvenience.
The Benefits of Crying
Tears are our lot in life. Whether they are disturbingly absent or embarrassingly present, they speak volumes. There aren’t a lot of studies done on shedding tears but the few that have been done have ‘shed’ some light on their importance. Here are a few facts that may make you think twice when you try to choke back the tears:
- Detoxify. Tears that are created when we are upset are of a different chemical composition than our regular tears that bathe and protect our eyes. These tears that are shed when you hurt contain stress hormones and may be part of your body’s garbage removal system. It is thought they are naturally detoxifying your system of an excess of these hormones produced by stress.
- Calm the Body. We have 2 systems: The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems. The Sympathetic system activates us and helps us respond to stress and events in our world. The Parasympathetic System calms us and allows us to rest, digest and heal. If you are living with your sympathetic system activated too much for too long, tears may be the natural switch that turns on your parasympathetic system and allows your body to recover. Whereas our bodies are able to quickly respond to stress with a fight, flight or freeze response, turning on the parasympathetic takes time. Allowing yourself a chance to get away and cry may help your body calm itself.
- Feel Good Hormones. Another chemical reaction takes place when we cry. Our bodies start to produce oxytocin and endorphins – the feel good hormones. Many people often report a cessation of anxiety symptoms for 24-48 hours after a good cry. Helping children to be able cry over the unfairness of the world and being with them through the tears can be both anxiety relieving as well as an extremely important life lesson. That is the point isn’t it? Life is hard and things don’t always turn out the way we expected, but if there are people there to share in those moments and help pick and lift you up, life becomes tolerable again.
- Cool an Activated System. A study of sobbing (I wonder who signed up for this study) found that sobbing forces us to take in large gulps of air which in turn helps cools our brain. I guess a cool brain is preferable to a hot brain and letting loose and letting ‘er buck, gives you a chance to cool your system down.
A Time to Cry
Crying can help you recover from life’s hardships. In order to make the most of these times, watch what you tell yourself as you cry,. Internal dialogue can begin to berate yourself, tell you you’re weak, or you may begin to worry that you are “losing it” and wont be able to recover from this. Change your thoughts instead to a recognition that this is a normal reaction to the difficulty of life.
Like a newborn baby, there is a place for crying when we experience deep hurt and disconnection. Instead of fearing you are losing it, accept that your body is responding in the best way to help you heal and recover from the hurt you have experienced.
That lady under the tree, crying from a severing that has taken place in her life – as she lets the tears flow, she may find she is actually at the birthplace of something new in her world.
Go ahead a cry. Find a safe place. Hold on to a safe person…and let ‘er buck.
Trish White is a counsellor in Saskatoon grateful to be able to witness the resilience of people as they forge new chapters.
#101 – 1132 College Dr. – 1-306-988-4880 – email@example.com
Warning: This is a blog post and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or mental health care. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. If you have long bouts of crying and are unable to stop, please see a professional.