Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
When is the last time you had a good cry? Rumor has it shedding tears is good for your health. Babies cry to communicate a need such as when they are wet, hungry, need comfort, or are overstimulated. As adults we are often taught that crying is a sign of weakness or something of which we should be ashamed.
The fact is, a good cry may be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, in many Japanese cities, there are “crying clubs” called rui-katsu (which literally means tear-seeking) where people openly cry. The premise is crying releases stress and is therefore a great practice for good mental health.
Tears, are like the ocean in that they are saltwater. They protect and lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes. Our bodies actually produce three different types of tears and all have different healing roles.
Reflex tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when aggravated by smoke, exhaust, or other irritants. Continuous tears are what keep our eyes lubricated. These tears contain a chemical called lysozyme which functions as an anti-bacterial. Lysozyme protects the eyes from infection. These tears also travel through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Emotional tears contain stress hormones that are excreted through the body.
Studies suggest emotional tears stimulate the production of endorphins which are our body’s natural pain killer. It’s believed humans are the only creature known to have emotional tears although some theorists believe gorillas and elephants do as well. Other species produce reflex tears for protection and lubrication.
Researchers studying the various kinds of tears have found emotional tears contain higher level of stress hormones than do basal (lubricating) tears. These are the tears that form when something gets in your eyes. In fact, crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance. And while reflex tears are 98% water, emotional tears have an agent that helps shed hormones and toxins that can accumulate during stress.
It’s probably not a surprise that crying improves mood, helps self-soothe and can reduce stress, but it can also help dull pain through the release of endorphins into the body. Other physical benefits include helping to improve your vision and clean out your nose because your tears are re-hydrating and flushing out bacteria.
It is not unusual to cry. In fact, both sexes cry more than people may realize. In the U.S., women cry an average of 3.5 times each month, with men crying an average of 1.9 times per month. A British report shared of those that cried in the past year, 41% of the most hardened group (men age 60-plus) shed their tears during a film that evoked emotion from them.
So, next time you need a good cry, let it out. It may be the best thing for you.
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