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.


“I will not live in shame!”

January 19, 2008

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There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  -Anais Nin 

I seem to be on a roll with the movies lately, so I’ll continue on that subject….We went to see The Golden Compass yesterday.

Mind you, fantasy has never been my genre, but my new husband encourages me to expand my horizons into fantasy and science fiction. I was raised by a born again scientist who insists that this reality is all there is, but Mike believes in parallel universes, etc. I try to keep my mind open, but not so much that my brain falls out!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Golden Compass!

The story somehow seemed plausible in spite of all of the many fascinating imaginary places, animals and vehicles exhibited. I especially liked the “demon” creatures. They reminded me of animal spirit guides or totems from the native American spiritual tradition. These are animal spirits that all humans possess. They follow us around and advise us. To me they represent our inner voice, spirit and intuition.

The line in the movie that stuck with me was spoken by the “armored polar bear” when he was challenged to fight to the death with his arch enemy. The young girl Lyra said to him that he might die and he responded with: “I will not live in shame!”

This could well be my own midlife battle cry. After being ashamed my whole life because of my sad and weakened spirit, I finally decided in midlife that I would be exactly who I was and nothing less, even if it killed me. In fact, I realized on my drive home from the movie, that the polar bear is my spirit guide!

I’ve always loved polar bears, or bears of any type. My favorite for years was the Chinese panda because I lived in China and I felt so drawn to their struggle to survive. Now the polar bears are even more threatened by global warming. It saddens me.

But the powerful side of me loved to hear the polar bear roar in the movie, showing the naked strength behind his righteous indignation. He would no longer be ignored or pushed around by others, no matter the personal cost.

I realize that many of the problems in this world are caused by egos out of control and anger. But there are some of us that could benefit from finding some justified fury inside of ourselves, and telling those that have taken advantage of our weakened and shameful state to shove off! On a personal, national and international level it is time for the weak to inherit the earth, taking back the power from those that speak down to us and treat us like fools.

I passionately want to believe that things can change in our country, that the people will tell the career politicians to go home and get a real job, and finally allow “the government of the people, by the people and for the people” to flourish again.

If we would all find the courage and justified anger to take back our country, this world could be a better place for all.