Why crying is a good thing

December 18, 2009

“There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.”   –Washington Irving

Biochemist William Frey has spent 15 years studying tears and why we cry.  His team of scientists have found that, although tear production organs were once thought to be unimportant and no longer necessary for survival, tears actually have numerous critical functions.

Tears are an emotional response which only humans have, for only people are known to weep.  While all animals that live in air produce tears to lubricate their eyes, only human beings possess the extensive system that causes us to cry.

Tears are secreted by your lacrimals—tiny, sponge-like glands which rest above the eye against the eye socket. The average person blinks every two to ten seconds. With every blink, the eyelid carries this fluid over your eye’s surface.

One of the most obvious functions of tears is to lubricate your eyeball and eyelid, but they also prevent dehydration of your various mucous membranes, as anyone with ‘dry eye’ problems can attest to.  A severe lack of lubrication produces a condition requiring medication or therapy to save the victim’s eyesight.

Another important function of tears is that they bathe your eyes in lysozyme, one of the most effective antibacterial and antiviral agents known to man.  Amazingly, lysozyme inactivates 90 to 95 per cent of all bacteria in a mere five to 10 minutes. Without it,  eye infections would be much more common and serious.

One amazing discovery is that tear production may actually aid a person in dealing with emotional problems.  Scientific studies have found that after crying, most people do feel better,  and those that suppress their tears do feel worse.

Not unexpectedly, those who suffer from the inherited disease familial dysautonomia not only cannot cry tears, but also have a lesser ability to deal with stressful events in their lives.

In a recent study, tears caused by simple irritants were compared to those brought on by emotion.  Researchers found that stress-induced tears actually remove toxic substances from the body. Volunteers were led to cry first from watching sad movies, and then from freshly cut onions. The researchers found that the tears from the movies contained far more toxic biological byproducts. Weeping, they concluded, is an excretory process which removes toxic substances that normally build up during emotional stress.

The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum. They also found that emotional tears contain 24 per cent higher albumin protein concentration than tears caused by eye irritants.

The researchers concluded that chemicals built up by the body during stress were removed by tears, which actually lowered stress. These include the endorphin leucine-enkephalin, which helps to control pain, and prolactin, a hormone which regulates milk production in mammals.

They found that one of the most important of those compounds which removed tears was adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), one of the best indicators of stress.  Suppressing tears increases stress levels, and contributes to diseases aggravated by stress, such as high blood pressure, heart problems and peptic ulcers.

Ashley Montagu concluded that weeping contributes not only to the health of the individual, but also to the group’s sense of community because ‘it tends to deepen involvement in the welfare of others’. Tears are an extremely effective method of communication, and can elicit sympathy much faster than any other means. They effectively relate that you are sincere about a certain concern, and anxious to deal with the problem.

What can we learn from all this? That the seemingly simple and common response of producing tears is enormously complex and, indeed, is an integral and necessary part of being human.  Without tears, life would be drastically different for humans—in the short run enormously uncomfortable, and in the long run our eyesight could be jeopardized.


Amy Ferris shares her confessions from a midlife crisis: Marrying George Clooney

October 12, 2009

One of the BEST benefits of being the Midlife Crisis Queen is being automatically mailed a few of the latest books published about midlife.

MarryingGeorgeClooneyBeing a librarian from way back, I ALWAYS appreciate a good read, and Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a midlife crisis is just that!

Any book about midlife crisis that can make you laugh and cry at the same time, is well worth reading.

From her love affair with Ambien to her midnight musings as she cruises the internet, Amy Ferris captures the deeper turmoil and confusion that only menopause can bring.

At first I thought her book would only be a light and sometimes hilarious romp through Amy’s own version of a midlife crisis with great lines like, “I no longer have a waistline!” and her compulsive need to Google old boyfriends and lovers.  She definitely kept me on my toes and laughing through her discussions about being a control freak even AFTER her own death.

But at the end of the book, Amy graciously shares her last days with her mother before she died.  No more touching words have been written about the passing of a beloved parent.

Do we “deserve” everything that happens to us?

September 11, 2009

I received another rejection notice from MORE MAGAZINE yesterday.  I pitched them a story about how others have dealt with their midlife difficulties and learned and grown from them.

I go back and forth in my relationship with the mainstream media.  Mostly I’ve decided that it is just too dysfunctional to bother with.  They seem to insist on covering only celebrities, how to lose weight, how to perfect your makeup, and other types of earth shattering news.  They insist on maintaining a pathologically optimistic attitude, never admitting that life is really tough sometimes, and how do we deal with that?

It reminds me of a conversation I overheard yesterday between two elders who both agreed that we should just wait a few more years before we change health care, because we don’t quite have it right yet.

I could not contain myself.  I burst in with, “While we tinker with the system, thousands of Americans are  dying for the lack of health care.  I know you both have Medicare, but the rest of us are completely screwed if we lose our job!”

It seems most Americans have a colossal case of:

My life is fine, so screw you!

I also used to feel so self-satisfied and complacent.  I had my little job and my life and thought anyone  who ran into trouble,  simply wasn’t playing by the proper rules.  Then I lost my job and could not find another no matter what.

No more health insurance, no more money and eventually no more home!  If I had had my bike accident (Traumatic Brain Injury) while I was uninsured, I definitely would have lost my house!  And I wouldn’t have been able to work because of my brain injury.

HELLO!  Completely unpredictable things happen to each of us all the time!  It’s nobody’s fault when you get cancer or have a terrible accident, and these things do happen to everybody, regardless of whether we  “deserve” them.

Perhaps it has to do with the unforgiving nature of some brands of Christianity.  You know, the old belief that if bad things happen to you, you are probably being punished for your sins.  I ran into this often in the rehab hospital where I did my counseling internship.  Especially the elderly would sit and wonder out loud, “What did I do to deserve this?”

News flash!  We all get sick, get injured, and we will all have to die, no matter how good or bad we have been in our life.  It sure would be nice if we accepted these facts and then decided to offer proper health care to our fellow Americans.  I feel certain that the richest country in the world can afford universal health care, if we ALL decide WE are worth it.

When it comes to a life crisis, women are far more vulnerable than men

August 20, 2009

According to a recent AARP survey, nearly two-thirds of American women age 40 to 79 have experienced long-term job loss, divorce, death of a spouse or a major illness or disability.

When these things happen, women are much more likely than men to take a huge financial hit.  Add to that the fact that women tend to live longer and carry more of the emotional burden in relationships and in a crisis, and we are talking major life stress!

“No one escapes the financial implications of a life crisis, but they are particularly acute for women,” said Richard “Mac” Hisey, President of AARP Financial Inc.

“The demographic considerations are obvious: women outlive men, so they experience more life crises and deal with the consequences longer. But women also tend to be the caregivers. That means women are frequently dealing with the human and logistical consequences of a life crisis, leaving little time and energy for the financial considerations.”

In this particular survey, 65% of women ages 40 to 79 had experienced a major life crisis that significantly impacted their finances.  Survey data revealed that dealing with emotions during times of life crisis is a particular challenge for women.

Three out of five of the women surveyed said that it was hard to keep their emotions in check during a major life event (vs. 46% of men). More than four in ten women (44%) said they had trouble staying focused.

“Life crises are the perfect storms of personal finance — where the need for consequential and frequently urgent financial decisions meets an emotional hurricane,” Hisey said. “This is a critical issue for women.  The vast majority of women will be solely responsible for their finances one day, frequently assuming that responsibility at a time of tremendous personal duress.”

I think they make a very good point with this survey:  “Let’s face it — it’s hard enough to contemplate some of these scenarios, let alone plan for them,”   Hisey said   “At the same time, the reality is this:   sooner or later, you’re going to experience a life crisis.”

That is exactly the point of this blog!  Accept the fact that anything can happen to anyone of us at any time!   I speak from experience!  I lost most of my income when I divorced in 2001.  Then I lost my job two years later.  Make a disaster plan and be sure to put away some savings for the day you hope never arrives!

See why I call myself the Queen of Crisis?

Growing up with Walter Cronkite

July 19, 2009

walter-cronkite smallI cried yesterday when I heard of the death of Walter Cronkite.

Actually, I sobbed.  He may have been the most trusted man in America, but to me he was more like a father figure.

As far back as I can remember, watching the evening news was a ritual in our family.  My dad would come home, and we’d all gather around the television to find out what happened that day in the world.  Afterwards, we’d sit down to dinner together and discuss world happenings.

After I was out on my own, I would still watch Walter each night as a way to reassure myself that some things are dependable in life.  Some things stay the same.  He was always there for us.  We could believe him.

I’m told the term “anchorman” was created to describe him in 1962, when he took over the CBS news desk.  And that is as it should be.  He was our anchor in a world that was changing so fast it was tough to keep up.  He always treated others with respect and dignity.  That was before television became the multiple-choice mayhem of corrupt and corrosive talking heads it has turned into today.  Who can you trust?

The death of Walter represents the end of an era for me and many other boomers, I’m sure.  It represents the end of a time when we could trust the news and the people behind it, because we knew that they worked with the utmost integrity and respect for their employers, the American people.

“I don’t want to live in a world without Walter Cronkite!”

– George Clooney

New Research on Women’s Friendships and Longevity

May 25, 2009

It has been my lifelong experience that while friendships with women have always been one of my highest priorities and essential to me on so many different levels, my female friends generally have not valued our time together as highly if their relationships with men or family intrude, as reported near the end of this article.

Here’s some food for thought on that subject:

By Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are.   By the way,   they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.

It’s a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research—most of it on men—upside down.   “Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible,” explains Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study’s authors. “It’s an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.”

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just “fight or flight.” “In fact,” says Dr. Klein, “it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in a woman, it buffers the “fight or flight” response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead.

When she actually engages in this tending or befriending,  studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men”, says Dr. Klein, “because testosterone, which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen”, she adds, “seems to enhance it.”

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic “aha!” moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. “There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in to clean the lab, have coffee, and bond”, says Dr. Klein.  “When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.”

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake:  The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. “There’s no doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live.”

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!

And that’s not all! When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of one of the largest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate.

Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That’s a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships.

“Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women,” explains Dr. Josselson. “We push them right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very healing experience.”

Letting go vs. trying to make things happen

January 20, 2009

I was raised to believe that you are the only one who can make things happen in your life.  You are in charge, and if your life does not go as hoped for, you are at fault.  If you are not getting the results you want, change the plan.

But lately I have been having a hard time finding that kind of simple, results- oriented mind set satisfactory.  I sometimes wish I could believe in some sort of greater being who controls the world, someone we can simply pray to in order to change our life.  However, that just does not fly for me.

I’ve been also thinking a lot about death.  A friend’s boss has been diagnosed with bile duct cancer with a slim chance for long term survival.  She is 46 and only found out in December.  For some reason this really hit home for me.  It makes me wonder what the point is for anything we do each day, if it all ends up in misery and pain.

One thing I know for sure, we all must find our own answers to these crucial questions.  No matter what we choose today or for the rest of our lives, we all must die.  This is the fact that helps each of us determine what we will do today.  Can we find meaning in this day’s activities when we know we are like every single person who has come before us?  When we know we will all slip away at the end of our lives, dust to dust.

My most positive response to these realizations is gratitude that I am still here living a relatively healthy life, with the strength and power to do what I can in this moment.  What will that be today?

First I will watch this five minute video to put me in the proper mind set to appreciate everything I will experience today.  You might also consider reading Barbara’s thoughts at Hole in the Donut.  She’s a real inspiration to me!