By George M. Graham Jr.
I recently finished reading a book by Dr. Judith Orloff, The Ecstasy of Surrender, in which she shared some information about tears and crying that piqued my interest. It triggered me to do some additional research, which helped me to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for one of our body's natural healing processes.
Research and studies have shown that there are many benefits of tears and crying that help to bring about health and healing. Dr. Jerry Bergman writes in one of his articles, The Miracle of Tears, "Tears are just one of many miracles which work so well that we take them for granted every day."
In her book, Dr. Orloff wrote, "Tears are your body's release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and pain. You also have tears of joy such as when a child is born or tears of relief, as when a difficulty has passed. They lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, and reduce stress hormones and they contain antibodies that fight infection."
Evidently, there are three types of tears and each type serves a different function. The three types are basal tears (Dr. Orloff refers to these as continuous tears,) reflex tears, and emotional tears.
We can discover some of the benefits of tears and crying by learning more about the function of each of the three types of tears. The first type, basal tears, is present in our eyes at all times (continuous.) These tears help keep our eyes and nose well lubricated and keep them from drying out. They actually drain through the nose, which is why we often have a runny nose when we cry.
These tears also contain an antibacterial, antiviral agent called Lysozyme that kills up to 95% of all bacteria in just five to 10 minutes. The benefit of this enzyme is that it helps to keep our eyes safe from many infections that could result in impairment or loss of vision.
If you have ever had to cut an onion, then you know what will often happen next. Your eyes begin to water and you probably begin to shed tears. This is an example of the second type of tears, reflex tears, which help us to deal with irritants to the eyes.
As a result of cutting an onion, a chemical reaction happens which produces a gas that irritates the eyes. The sensory nerves in our eyes trigger hormones to cause the eyes to produce tears. The reflex tears usually flow in larger amounts than the basal tears because they help to detoxify the eye by washing away harmful substances and irritants. These tears also contain antibodies to help protect the eyes.
In 1980, after the birth of my first son, the nurse laid his wrapped body in my arms. As I looked down at this amazing miracle I was holding, I was not prepared for what happened next. I began to cry uncontrollably. I was so overwhelmed with awe, love, and compassion that I was crying tears of joy and happiness. This is an example of the third type of tears, emotional tears.
Emotional tears are produced due to any number of different reasons: sadness, anger, hurt, pain, grief, anxiety, joy, happiness, or stress. Dr. William Fry describes more about the science of tears in his book, Crying, The Mystery Of Tears. He shares how emotional tears contain stress hormones that are excreted when we cry. This helps the body detoxify itself. Other studies describe that crying actually stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which help us to feel better as a result of crying.
Research shows that women cry five times more often than men. Because of macho attitudes, men have believed that crying is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. However, the social winds of change have made crying more acceptable and it is now being regarded as evidence of strength, self-confidence, and awareness.
Dr. Orloff stated, "Crying is necessary to work through grief. When waves of tears come over us after we experience a loss, they are helping us process the loss so that we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are leaving ourselves open to depression, bitterness, or physical symptoms (emotional pain can morph into disease in our bodies,) if we suppress these potent feelings).” Research documents after crying, we are in a calmer state of being. Our breathing rate and heart rate decrease and our bodies return to a state of homeostasis.
Shedding tears or having a good cry helps us to feel better and provides therapeutic value, not only physically, emotionally, and psychologically, but also spiritually. Crying helps us to bond and feel supported and builds community. It is also strongly correlated with empathy. It moves and touches hearts through love and compassion.
In 1993, coach Jim Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award and said the following in his acceptance speech, "To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is to think. You should spend time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week; you're going to have something special."
As you Dare To Do Your Best, you will meet with obstacles, challenges, and stress along the way. You may shed tears and cry. It is okay! Remember, there are many benefits to tears and crying that will help you to be able to work through the current situation. It is part of the awesomeness of how our bodies are made to help us to be and do our best!