FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – The fascinating value of tears

Most people do not like to cry. They apologize, turn away or remove themselves from people to cry it out alone.  Tears are a tool for healing and communicate deeply held emotions. They are our body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Tears are also shed when we are happy, joyful, or touched by an emotional experience such as the birth of a baby, the reunion of a loved one, a wedding or graduation. Sometimes tears come in relief of something difficult that has passed. Tears are natural when we are in physical pain. Tears humanize our experiences, create connection, authenticity, and vulnerability. Many times, tears humble us. Some may think that people who cry are weak, but many have described people who cry as tender, courageous, strong, and approachable.

The biochemistry of tears is fascinating. The pH of tears is normally 7.45 which is a bit on the alkaline scale. They protect and lubricate our eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress, hormones and contain antibodies that fight infection. There are different kinds of tears each with their own biochemical properties. 

Reflex tears allow our eyes to clear out particles of dust, smoke, or exhaust. Continuous tears work to keep our eyes lubricated and are filled with the chemical called, lysozyme, which functions as a antibiotic protecting our eyes from infection. Emotional tears contain stress hormones that get secreted from our body helping us regain our equilibrium, decrease our heart rate, and place us into a calmer emotional state after a good cry.  

Some studies suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, a natural pain reducer and “feel good hormone”. This might be why a good cry makes us feel better. Emotional tears heal the heart. Crying is essential to assist with the grief process when waves of tears take their toll on our emotions as we recognize and acknowledge a severe loss. Tears helps us heal from the grief cycle and opens our hearts to others who desire to enter in that place of sadness with us. Appreciating the value of tears allows us to honor the purifying benefits of the experience of crying. 

As a phenomenon that is unique to humans, crying is a natural response to a range of emotions from deep sadness and grief or extreme happiness and joy. Experts agree that crying is good for our health. Physicians of ancient Greece and Rome opined that tears work like a purgative, draining off toxins and purifying us. Today’s psychological thought largely concurs, emphasizing the role of crying as a mechanism that allows us to release stress and emotional pain. Crying has been called a safety value because keeping deep feelings inside can be damaging to our mental health, cardiovascular system, increasing hypertension and a less resilient immune system including stress, anxiety, and emotional distress. Crying has also been shown to increase attachment, encouraging closeness, empathy, and support from friends and family. Crying is good for our health.  After all, we are the only animals that shed emotional tears. Let’s all celebrate our common humanity as we become grateful for the incredible and fascinating value of tears. joneen@myrelationshipcenter.org