For over twenty years as physician, I’ve witnessed, time and again, the healing power of tears. Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, 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. In my own life, I am grateful when I can cry. It feels cleansing, a way to purge pent up emotions so they don’t lodge in my body as stress symptoms such as fatigue or pain. To stay healthy and release stress, I encourage my patients to cry. For both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.
In “Emotional Freedom,” I discuss the numerous health benefits of tears. Like the ocean, tears are salt water. Protectively they lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and they 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.” Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it’s possible that that elephants and gorillas do too. Other mammals and also salt-water crocodiles produce reflex tears which are protective and lubricating.
Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart. You don’t want to hold tears back. Patients sometimes say, “Please excuse me for crying. I was trying hard not to. It makes me feel weak.”
My heart goes out to them when I hear this. I know where that sentiment comes from: parents who were uncomfortable around tears, a society that tells us we’re weak for crying–in particular that “powerful men don’t cry.” I reject these notions. The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self awareness to cry. These are the people who impress me, not those who put up some macho front of faux-bravado.
Try to let go of outmoded, untrue, conceptions about crying. It is good to cry. It is healthy to cry. This 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. When a friend apologized for curling up in the fetal position on my floor, weeping, depressed over a failing romance, I told her, “Your tears blessed my floor. There is nothing to apologize for.”
I’ve been this enthusiastic about crying for years. In fact, during my psychiatric residency at UCLA when supervisors and I watched videos of me with patients, they’d point out that I’d smile when a patient cried. “That’s inappropriate,” they’d say. I disagreed then; still do. I wasn’t smiling because my patients were depressed or grieving. I was smiling because they were courageously healing depression or other difficult emotions with tears. I was happy for their breakthrough. In my life, too, I love to cry. I cry whenever I can. Wish I could more. Thank God our bodies have this capacity. I hope you too can appreciate the experience. Let your tears flow to purify stress and negativity.
Often people find themselves crying in my Naturopathic practice, and particularly when doing Psych-K and energy work. In spite of their best intentions to 'not cry' they end up having an emotional release related to the work we are doing in releasing negative and self limiting beliefs. I always tell my clients that there is nothing at all to be ashamed of, and that the release is simply a part of the natural process, and as we can see from Dr Orloff's article can be really beneficial for our health. I certainly have no embarassment when around people crying. I have cried enough in my life to recognise it's value and I simply want the best for my clients!
Especially as men we often feel very reticent to be in touch with our feelings. However when we look at the myriad joys of life, the things that bring us into contact with our feelings really are the stuff that life's made of!
To remove ourselves from this is to separate ourselves from truly living.
I believe that there is a place and a time for being 'tough'. A time for standing up and being counted.
My friends and readers know that in my time in the ring and on the lifting platform I have been as masculine as any one else....but toughness is being able to stand up for what is right, being able to not worry about what others think when you are doing right, and doing it all with honesty, humility, loyalty...and love!
Being scared of our emotions is the exact antithesis of being tough! However having the strength to recognise, and yes - show - that we are human and vulnerable is, to my mind, what being 'tough' in the best sense of the word is.
Thanks to my wonderful friend Melissa Lawrence of Awakening Source for posting this article.