Years ago, while traveling, I lost my return plane ticket (yes, long ago plane tickets were made of paper). I was broke and the thought of buying another ticket sent me into a stress induced tear-fest. A friend I was traveling told me, “I never cry over anything that can’t cry over me”. I don’t know where the words came from originally, it really doesn’t matter. My friend went on to explain how she had lost her father, husband, and sister all in the same year. Her father to old age, her husband to a work place accident and her sister to a drunk driver. And so she said, “never again will I cry over anything that can’t cry for me”. This phrase stuck with me and changed my life in profound ways.
When a loss happens, it seems that everyone puts their hand in a jar and pulls out a prepackaged phrase, this too shall pass, time heals all wounds, they’re in a better place. Ugh. Enough. For me, this phrase about crying was the only one that made sense. Ah, yes, now I get it. Everything else is without weight. Nothing is as important as our life and the lives of our friends and family. Having experienced loss, I now have membership into the club of understanding. Words often fall on deaf ears until experience renders them relevant.
Today, I don’t cry over objects, deadlines, missed opportunities. My husband can knock a 200 year old vase off the table and into oblivion without my uttering a word. However, when I’m faced with the loss of someone, I cry and cry and cry. This is important. Get it out. Scream. Yell. Fly your freak flag but get rid of all that toxic sorrow. Science has proven that crying will help you live longer. It’s the body’s way of relieving stress.
Researchers divide tears into three types:
- Basal tears – are always present and lubricate the eye
- Reflex tears – appear in reaction to irritants like dust or smoke. These are also the tears that launch from our ducts when chopping an onion.
- Emotional tears – are produced when the body needs a release from a strong emotion such as happiness or sadness.
According to Jay Efran, emeritus professor of psychology at Temple University, modern science indicates that while animals produce the first two types of tears, only humans produce emotional tears.
Biochemist, Dr. William Frey from the Ramsey Medical Center, conducted research on tears. He found that the chemical compounds that make up tears changes depending on the type of tear. Reflex tears are 98% water, while emotional tears also contain stress hormones. During times of stress, an emotional cry remove toxins from the body. Endorphins are also produced giving us a feeling of relief.
So while we shouldn’t pull out the Kleenex for overcooked pasta or a dent in our car, when facing a grave loss, by all means, open up the water works.
Cry and you will feel better, science says so.