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.


Five things we cannot change

December 29, 2008

five-things-we-cannot-change-for-blogI want to share with you some interesting thoughts from one of my favorite writers!

David Richo wrote the best book I’ve ever read on being with others called:  How to be an adult in relationships. Now he’s written: The five things you cannot change…and the happiness we find by embracing them.

This book starts from the guiding premise that we control very little of what happens to us in life.  One of our major difficulties is discovering how “reality refuses to bow to our commands…all our lives include unexpected twists, unwanted endings, and challenges of every puzzle kind.”

David Richo works as a psychotherapist and has found the same five struggles arise again and again with his clients.  These he calls the five unavoidable givens:

  1. Everything changes and ends.
  2. Things do not always go according to plan.
  3. Life is not always fair.
  4. Pain is part of life.
  5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.

Each of these givens suggest questions about our destiny:

Are we here to get our way or to dance with the flow of life?  Are we here to make sure everything goes according to our plans or to trust the surprises and synchronicities that lead us to new vistas?  Are we here to make sure we get a fair deal or are we here to be upright and loving?  Are we here to avoid pain or to deal with it, grow from it, and learn to be compassionate through it?  Are we here to be loyally loved by everyone or to love with all our might?”

The idea that struck me the strongest in his introduction was the most important given of all: Anything can happen to anyone of us at anytime. Most of us spend a lifetime dancing around this most obvious truth.  We imagine that very good or very bad luck is supposed to happen to other people but never to us.

But when we embrace the fact that anything can happen to us at anytime, we begin to let go of our ego’s privileged view of itself as entitled to special treatment, that some rescuer will come through just for us and grant us exemption from life’s hard knocks.

If  we finally accept that we are the same as everyone else in these basic uncertainties, we become humble and feel a consoling sense of belonging, no matter how difficult life may become.

I think David’s ideas have everything to do with midlife crisis.  For many of us this crisis in the middle of life is our opportunity to feel human and fallible and just like everyone else.  Circumstances change, life becomes confusing, and we must finally accept how out of control our life can be at times, and how fundamentally unsuperior we are in this world of troubled souls.

When I consider the truth: “Things don’t always go according to plan,” I see that my life would be much worse if they had!  I was married to the wrong man and pursuing a career I no longer enjoyed.  If things had gone according to plan, I would not have gotten a divorce, lost my job, and consequently found a life so much more suited to my needs and dreams.

I can highly recommend this thought-provoking book!

Midlife Crisis is No Joke!

December 26, 2008

Do you want to see a midlife crisis in action, then watch the news this morning and see what happened in Covina, California on Christmas eve!

Forty-five year old Bruce Pardo decided he couldn’t take it anymore after a bad divorce and then job loss.  So he went over to his in-laws’ house and started shooting with a gun and a flame-thrower!

Need any more proof that midlife is a very tough time to negotiate?  We have an international study showing that the mid-40s is the worst time in every country in the world for clinical depression.

We have a recent Center for Disease Control study showing that suicides are rising dramatically among 45 to 55 year olds, and we have stories like this in the news.  Need more proof that this is a problem we should all be paying attention to?

I am particularly mad about this situation because I tried once again last week to convince my local newspaper that there truly is a story in what’s happening with Americans in midlife right now.

They blew me off as usual!  Interestingly, the young reporter I sent it to found it to be an important story, but the older editor Sara Hansen (a woman obviously in midlife herself!) decided it was totally unnewsworthy.

Perhaps it is a simple case that those that are successful in midlife don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening with those of us that are not.  “Who wants to think about those poor losers who got divorced or lost their job recently.  They must have somehow deserved their fate.”  Perhaps we all feel this way to some extent until it happens to us.

I just find it strange that I have acquired an international following with this blog, and almost 45,000 views, and yet a local editor can find no story of interest to her readership!

I think I see why newspapers are going out of business now…

New hope for “chubbies” everywhere!

December 7, 2008

vintage-chubby-ad-for-blogRemember when the expression “pleasingly plump” was in vogue?  Well, it may be making a come back.

While most of us fear the fitness police may storm into our kitchens any day now and pronounce our diet and lifestyle dangerous and possibly terminal, a 2007 study from the American Medical Association suggests that we can actually be fit AND fat.

Researchers found that the difference in mortality rate between the least fit group and the one just above that made  a gigantic difference!  In other words, just a little fitness could be twice as good for you as no fitness at all!

I love the line from the November AARP Bulletin article Fat and Fit: Who says you can’t be both? by Linda Greider that documents these findings:  “Why don’t you stop sitting around calculating your BMI-body mass index- and go take a nice long walk?”

This reminds me of a wonderful book I read in 1998 called Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry by Laura Fraser.

In this book, Laura personally tried all of the well-known diets in America and documents the good and bad in all of them.  Then she concludes with my own dieting watchwords:

“Eat your vegetables and go outside and play!”

As someone who has maintained a decent BMI until age 45 by exercising regularly and NOT dieting, I have concluded the most important way to respond to aging past age 45  is to KEEP MOVING!

By somehow maintaining an optimistic worldview and constant movement toward new ways of thinking and being, I have achieved some small degree of positive aging.

Keep your body, your mind, your senses, and your emotions moving!  Make it a way of life.  Stop blaming and shaming yourself and others.  Don’t get bogged down in your past or your fears for the future.  This is the only day you have for certain.   How are you going to make it the best ever?

Each day we are born again.

What we do today is what matters most.

If your life was a message, what message would that be?

October 7, 2008

Now there’s a great prompt to help you think about ways to change your priorities at midlife.

I’ve decided the most important message I would like my life to express is:

Never give up on yourself.

I have been so tempted at times to give up on myself and others in my life. I know most of you are confronting a financial crisis right now, but mine came earlier.

Eight months after I lost my job and could not find another one no matter what I tried, I was in crisis. My life felt like it was slowly disappearing down the toilet and I honestly had no idea where my next house payment was coming from. Desperation set in.

I remember sitting in my living room, one sultry July day, sweaty and depressed, considering my options. The TV happened to be on and Richard Gere was speaking to the host of some talk show. I turned up the volume because I generally enjoy his world view. At the end of his time, the host ask him for a few final words. He seemed to look me straight in the eyes and say, “Hang on, it all changes.”

These are the words I would share with you if you have great fear around the present crisis, not unlike those other wise words, but ever so true, “This too shall pass.”

Yes, Richard somehow captured the mystery of life for me in those five small words:

We should never EVER give up on ourselves and our dreams.

Soon after I began writing professionally, I also launched this new blog. I knew it was high time for me to step up and start to offer support and encouragement to anyone else who might be feeling like a midlife loser. I felt compelled to bolster those whose courage was faltering, and tell them not to give up on their craziest aspirations and ideals, just because they were going through a bad patch.

I believe we all have boundless potential to change at any age, and discover a life we can only imagine now. Midlife is a great time to start manifesting that unique vision you’ve been secretly nurturing for years.

I figure if my daily missives from “The Queen” help even one midlife sojourner realize their deepest, seemingly impossible fantasy, I have successfully transmitted the message of my life.

What is the message of your life? Please share it with us.

Are you a highly sensitive person?

July 24, 2008

I have learned an amazing number of useful things from my masseuse Marolyn. I’ve been seeing her regularly for years, long before my divorce in 2001. She always helps me keep my life in perspective, while making my body feel marvelous!

For example, after my divorce she kept telling me how much happier and healthier I seemed. She said I seemed so much more alive. She also tells me that I am more in touch with what is happening in my own body than most people she meets.

After my recent bike accident, something she said showed me that I have some sort of sixth sense around others. I can feel immediately if they care about me or not, and if I sense any level of disrespect or disinterest, I generally end the relationship. I thought everybody was like this! It’s funny how we assume that everyone else’s experience of life is just like ours.

Marolyn turned me on to an interesting book recently called: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you, by psychologist Elaine N. Aron. There I learned how unusual I truly am! Dr. Aron has studied this phenomenon for years and has found that only around 15% of Americans are “highly sensitive.”

What does that mean? She offers a self-test at the end of her preface which questions how sensitive you are to subtleties in your environment, other people’s moods, pain, spending too much time around others, bright lights or loud noises, to name only a few examples. Sensitivity to caffeine and other stimulants is also mentioned, as well as startling easily.

I’ve always known I was a little more sensitive than most, but this book explains so many of the problems I’ve had relating to others my whole life, problems like not being able to spend long periods of time around others and needing lots of time alone. Dr. Aron has researched this topic for five years with in-depth interviews, clinical experience, and hundreds of consultations with HSPs.

BTW, I learned from this book that both my new husband and I are highly sensitive people. That explained a lot to me about how we clicked so quickly when we met, and why we can spend more time together without getting on each other’s nerves. We are both very sensitive to being highly sensitive!

Warning: Ouch Grouch!

January 14, 2008

I woke up today aching everywhere! Blame it on the cold and constantly changing weather here in northern Colorado, but I can barely move!

I still have plantar fascitis, something that everyone says does not go away quickly. So I begin from a place of limping around. And my computer arm has been sore for a while now. I think I’ll blame that on my new addiction to blogging. 🙂  But then the osteoarthritis in my knee started flaring up again last night…yes, same side as my foot problems. I swear, I’ll need a cane soon!

I attend an “senior” exercise class three days a week at my local recreation center. The class isn’t really defined as for seniors, but it’s from 9-10AM during the week so most working folks can’t attend. I love the comradery! I have to say I generally prefer the company of those 45 and older these days, and some in their 70’s are down right entertaining!

But I swear I am often in more pain than those in their 60’s and 70’s! I was doing pretty well with my class and then a 40 minute walk 4-5 times a week, until my foot gave out on me. I used to pride myself on my go-get-em attitude, and enjoy my walks immensely.

Now a walk around the block is my limit and my class leads to: “Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!” The body betrayal begins! Then my loving husband felt compelled to mention how much I need to lose weight this morning…Thanks for sharing!

I have always maintained a decent weight until menopause hit a couple years ago. That’s when the real betrayal began! Some call it “Stress eating” but I prefer the description of a friend in my exercise class who says: “Everything makes me eat!  Stress, happiness, sadness, summer, winter, sunshine, clouds.”  Especially when you’re a good cook and you enjoy preparing delicious meals, you’re in trouble at menopause/andropause!

The pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year was so memorably scumptious! That was the exact moment I realized I am a complete carbohydrate addict. I wanted that pie more than anything else at that exact moment in time. Or as Whoopie Goldberg says, “There comes a time when pumpkin pie tastes better than sex!”

Some say Baby Boomers don’t believe that they will age like previous generations. They’ll just stay young forever. I WISH! I think a lot of us have trouble relating to aging metaphors, and I just can’t see the Boomer generation calling themselves “Seniors.”

An astute friend of mine calls us “the new older people.” I guess we’re going to have to work on a title for ourselves, since words are power and image is everything in America!  

Time to go try and move!