By John Salak –
Tears come for all sorts of reasons. There are happy, sad, painful, joyful and funny tears. The floodgates can even open for allergies or if something is bothering a person’s peepers. All this has lead poets, prophets, lovers, haters, those in agony and others in rapture to obsess over the possible power of tears.
Unfortunately, for all this focus, there is still a lot of debate on just what good tears do. Even the venerated Washington Post recently couldn’t quite come to an absolute ruling on their benefits. Steady research just wasn’t available to back of all the claims of the beneficence of tears, it reported. Although for all its uncertainty, the Post did acknowledge plenty are being shed during the extended lockdown caused by the pandemic.
First off, it’s important to recognize that not all tears are created equal. They come in three varieties: basal tears, reflexive tears and psychic tears. The point of basal and reflexive tears are pretty clear cut and certainly fall into the benefits category. These drops are designed to lubricate eyes and wash away harmful irritants. The trickier tears to assess are the psychic type, which comes out in children, adolescents and adult during emotional episodes.
There’s no debate that psychic tears are real, but the Post reports that it isn’t totally clear that they really do the soul any good, although claims have been made for centuries that these droplets can remove toxins from the body, release pent up emotions and rid a body of the blues.
Lauren Bylsma, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, isn’t convinced despite the arguments to the contrary. She argues that research on crying is limited at best, in part because generating psychic tears in a laboratory setting is especially difficult.
“It seems that crying occurs just… after the peak of the emotional experience, and crying is associated with this return to homeostasis,” she told the Post. “Crying might help aid that stress recovery process, but it may be that it’s only under certain circumstances, depending on the context in which the person cries.”
Beyond this, there are other issues that might impact how a person feels after crying that are not directly associated with tear, Bylsma adds.
Of course, Bylsma and others admit that crying in the appropriate social setting may bring indirect benefits brought about by demonstrating a social cue. A stream of tears rolling down a person’s face obviously signals they are in pain or in a highly emotional state and that often triggers friends and family members to lend emotional and physical support.
Others, however, claim the benefits of crying are more absolute.
“Crying activates the body in a healthy way,” says Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA, reported in Webmd.com. “Letting down one’s guard and one’s defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing. The same thing happens when you watch a movie and it touches you and you cry… That process of opening into yourself… it’s like a lock and key.”
Sideroff maintains his assessment is based research and not simply observations. He notes that emotional tears contain a higher level of stress hormones and mood-regulating manganese than basal or reflex tears. This means that these tears can help relax tighten muscles and tension. “[Crying] activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance,” he told Webmd.com
Still need a push to embrace crying’s benefits? How about joining a crying club. “It’s a good idea,” he reports. “Crying in a group can validate [the practice] and tell you that it’s something that’s OK to do. For a lot of people, it can make it easier to [cry].”
Healthline.com goes further by identifying more than a heaping handful of reasons crying delivers feel-good benefits.
These include detoxing the body, support for self-soothing, dulling pains by releasing endorphins over time, improving mood by lowering and regulating brain temperatures by making an individual take short, quick breaths, rallying social support and in aiding in grief recovery. Yale University even reports tears can restores emotional equilibrium.
Babies benefit too from their tears. Crying can help them breathe by clearing out their lungs, noses and mouths. They also sleep better after a good cry, according to a report in the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, maybe your mom was right. Go ahead. Have a good cry. You’ll feel better.