Go Ahead, Make Me Cry
I met a friend for lunch yesterday. While we casually chatted over hot wings and spinach dip on the outdoor patio of a quaint Irish pub, a song started to play that caused my thoughts to drift.
As he continued talking, I was blindsided with a memory that overshadowed the conversation and I felt that familiar welling-up of tears. My friend paused and asked what was wrong.
I couldn’t speak, so I turned my head away in an attempt to regain my composure. The ferocity of my emotions that I’d managed to keep at bay through the holidays, now seized my body and were letting me know any resistance now was futile.
They were taking over, right here in front of the many unsuspecting — and now concerned — patrons who couldn’t help but stare. And there was nothing I could do about it.
My friend was used to these occasional bouts of random grief, but I noticed his uneasiness begin to rise.
“Stop,” he sternly ordered. “Stop doing this to yourself. I hate seeing you hurt.”
Although he meant well, what he didn’t understand was that he was doing me more harm than good by trying to distract me.
“No — this is good. Just give me a minute and I’ll be fine.”
I needed to cry.
I lost my twenty-one-year-old son four and a half years ago in a vehicle accident. Although I manage to function normally and keep my bouts of grief contained to moments of solitude or too much wine with close friends, there are still times when my body’s basic need to let the waterworks flow overrides my mental fortitude to keep from losing my shit.
But why do we try so hard not to cry in the first place?
How often do you stifle your tears in fear of making others around you uncomfortable? How do YOU feel when someone begins crying in your presence?
Our society programs us to see crying as something we should try to avoid, especially among males. We often feel uncomfortable when someone around us is unable to “hold themselves together”. It’s customarily perceived as a weakness that we should be able to control, instead of the necessary survival mechanism that it actually is.
What are tears?
We’re equipped with this response of sometimes uncontrollable eye-leakage for a variety of reasons. But what is this watery substance that excretes from the borders of our ocular orifices?
This aqueous substance is mainly water, and very similar in its chemical make-up to saliva. They contain fatty oils and over 1500 different proteins. This “eye-spit” also contains electrolytes, such as sodium, which gives them their salty taste.
There are three types of tears:
- Basal or Continuous
Basal tears aren’t the tears as we know them. It’s the natural antibacterial lubricant of our eyes that constantly secrets from the ducts to keep them moist.
Reflex tears are triggered by debris and irritants such as smoke, perfume, and onions. They’re released to protect our eyes by flushing out the bad stuff.
Emotional tears are the good stuff. Maybe not always the most comfortable depending on your perspective and level of tolerance for attention, but full of wonderful benefits nonetheless. Hormones, endorphins, and toxins are released through these tears which offer the greatest rewards to our well-being.
Benefits of Crying
Although the non-cryer in a social interaction instinctively feels it’s their duty to make the other person “feel better”, crying is extremely important and beneficial in both the physical and mental aspects of our health.
Sometimes I yearn for a good cry. When I’ve been overwhelmed with the many responsibilities and adversities of life, there is nothing like a good, full-on ugly tear-shedding sesh to improve my mood.
The endorphins that are released after such episodes are the same as those released after a good workout that gives us that wonderful “peaceful” feeling.
Detoxifies and prevents disease
Emotional tears contain toxins and stress hormones that are released from the body when you cry. It’s no secret that stress affects our blood pressure and heart, but it also increases inflammation that affects our immune system and can lead to many chronic and auto-immune conditions.
By allowing our bodies to release negative emotions through crying, those chemical releases act to prevent the buildup of stress and reduce our chances of reacting in anger. Crying also lowers our manganese levels which are much higher when we are anxious or stressed.
According to researchers,
“emotional stress is a major contributing factor to six of our nation’s leading causes of death, including: heart disease, cancer, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, respiratory disorders, and suicide.”
Dulls and relieves pain
Have you ever noticed that when you’re crying, you become hyperfocused on the crying itself, instead of what made you cry in the first place?
Unlike continuous tears that are 98 percent water, emotional tears release feel-good endorphins such as oxytocin and endogenous opioids that may cause your body to enter a sort of numb stage when crying for a long period of time.
Rallies the pack
In addition to the physiological benefits attributed to tears, they also have interpersonal and social benefits as well. According to a 2016 study, crying is primarily an attachment behavior that alerts our “pack” of our distress and brings the necessary emotional support.
I suck at allowing people to comfort me. I worry more about making them uncomfortable than I do about my own reasons for crying. I’ve been trying to work on letting the pack work its magic and allow the physical contact to help in my release.
Being around others (which I hate to admit since I’m a classic introvert)actually helps to boost our immunity.
I’m amazed at how inspired I become after a couple of well-needed “grief days”. Those are the days that I just allow my body to be taken over by whichever emotion has been begging my attention that I’ve been trying my best to ignore.
Emotion has always been the greatest catalyst of art. After the tearful emotional release of the aforementioned hormones that leaves me high on that peaceful easy feeling, my inspiration tank is ready for another refill.
As I’ve gotten older, my beliefs have shifted from what society accepts, to that of “if our bodies naturally do something, then it has a purpose”.
Changing our mentality towards tears as something that should be nurtured and allowed as a positive thing, instead of finding ways to turn it off or distracted someone from, is one step closer to improving our mental health.
Resist the urge to talk someone out of their emotions, and encourage them to release those emotions naturally. If there’s no outlet to release that pressure, it will eventually manifest itself in some not-so-healthy physical and emotional ways.
After almost five years of dealing with tears as a regular part of my life, the best advice I can give is just to be there and listen.
The next time you’re at the pub and your chicken wings session is interrupted by a buddy’s emotional torrent, just give them a minute.
And please, hand them a napkin to keep the tears out of their beer.