Regardless of gender, leadership status, age, socio-economic status, spirituality, life experience or pretty much anything else that might come to mind – it is okay to cry. You see, our physical bodies were created with tear ducts and thus, crying is meant to be part of the human experience for us all. Quite frankly, considering what we are experiencing with COVID-19 in our world right now, I can think of no better time to allow ourselves what some might call “a good cry” – yea, even if you’re a man. The quarantines, the loss of work, the constant news feeds touting active cases and increasing death tolls, this constant reminder of things beyond our control is more than most of us were built to handle in addition to our everyday challenges.
In full self-disclosure, when it comes to championing the human spirit, seeing people help one another, or watching a group/team come together and overcome insurmountable odds, I have no problem allowing my eyes to well-up with tears. These are tears of pride for the best that can be found within the human race. I get a bit emotional witnessing who we as humans can be for each other and what we can do for one another when things seem impossible.However, when it typically comes to my own internal conflicts and bouts with stress, I’ve never been one to personally tap into crying as a stress reliever.I’ve learned to pack it down inside (unhealthily I admit). Maybe it comes from the “Quit your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” phrase I heard in my younger years? Maybe it comes from an ill-conceived notion that crying equals weakness – and God forbid we show weakness? So, I decided to look into the science of tears to better understand their purpose and power and believe it is worth sharing with you and your team.
I researched a number of biological and psychological scientific sources and found, in short, we humans produce three different types of tears: Basal, Reflex and Emotional. Basal tears are those tears constantly in our eyes simply to keep them from drying out. Some sources state the body produces an average of 5-10 oz. of basal tears a day just to keep us healthy. Reflex tears are those protective tears that are produced when we come in contact with irritants such as onion, dust, smoke, etc.Our sensory nerves communicate with the brain to get our glands working to flush out the intruder. Emotional tears emerge as a response to a range of emotions. These tend to begin in the cerebrum (where feelings such as sadness are registered) and then the endocrine system becomes triggered releasing hormones which in turn result in the production of emotional tears.
While basal and reflex tears tend to be about 98% water and share similar chemistry make-up, it has been discovered that emotional tears have higher levels of prolactin, adrenocorticotropic (ACTH) hormones (which tend to indicate high levels of stress) and leucine-enkephalin (a pain-reducing endorphin which is connected to mood improvement). While there is still a great deal of research needed in this area, many professionals are now hypothesizing that “a good cry” helps release stress hormones that might assist the body in regulation and bring it back to a sense of homeostasis (internal stability or balance).
Depending on when or how it happens, I’m learning there are different aspects to crying. There is the intrapersonal aspect of crying for oneself that can allow for a release of stress and toxins that do not serve us well physically nor mentally. This is very important for us as individuals. There is also the interpersonal aspect of crying that allows for the shared human experience and reminds us all that we are not alone and together we are better.This is critical for our family units, friendships and working teams.
In Psychology Today (2018), Joe Pierre, M.D. reminds us “...it has been over two millennia since Hippocrates theorized that the function of crying is to release ‘ill humors’ from the brain and since Aristotle wrote that crying ‘cleanses the mind’.” It appears the science supporting their claims is slowly being revealed. It was interesting to find that the Japanese are such ardent believers in the health benefits of crying that they host rui-katsu(“crying clubs”) in some of their cities in order to help people improve mental and physical health. Maybe they’re on to something.
COVID-19 has introduced us all to a completely new level of stress. You may find your typical stress relieving techniques are eluding you at this time (i.e. going to the gym, checking out a movie, attending a concert, gathering with friends, etc.), but crying is a significant opportunity that is still within our power. The point is…It Is Okay To Cry.
AUTHOR: Dr. Sylvia E. Fuentes firstname.lastname@example.org