Crying has never been high on my agenda – it’s painful, time consuming and very messy. It’s so important to cry and I’m not talking about a few tears where you wipe them away, hoping your mascara doesn’t run, I mean, falling to your knees, opening your mouth and waling. The Italians have it right, the louder you cry the better.
I had such a moment some months back when I had come home from a business trip, my husband was away and there was no one to greet me – and note that this was a particularly difficult business trip. I turned the key, came inside and just stood there in the silence. My beautiful dog Willow had recently passed due to old age and illness and she would normally greet me at the door. I collapsed on the floor ever so slowly I could feel the buildup of emotion, my soul was rumbling, I was getting hot (flush probably) and I expelled a scream that came from a place of deep sadness and grief. I knew, from my years of research around the Endocrine system that my tears contained hormones that would calm me and that I would be okay. I knew that my body would look after me and that my mind could just stay quiet for a time while my spirit cried. I stayed there on the floor for two hours, crying, sobbing, resting, crying, sobbing, resting until I was thoroughly spent.
It was one of the most joyous two hours of my life.
While researching for The Moon & You App, I came across information about tears and what happens when you cry emotionally. It is armed with that information that I allowed myself to wallow and delve deep into my grief. I knew my body or tear ducts had chemicals that would be secreted onto my checks that will calm and sooth me. I also read that crying (soulful crying) purges the system of toxins and you arrive at the other end renewed and a little lighter.
I encourage you to read the research I have found and please note the references at the end if you wish to do your own research. Embrace your grief, yes, it’s hard to enter that space, it’s even harder to allow yourself to feel your pain, but doing so brings healing. By all means, seek professional help to work through this as well, but for me, sitting with this and feeling it has helped me to be a more compassionate human as opposed to a cantankerous one.
What Chemicals are in Tears?
Tears are produced by the tear or lacrimal glands located in the upper outer region of the eye (eyelids). From lacrimal glands, tear fluid flows out of the eyes via tiny tubes known as, tear ducts or lacrimal puncta and drains down across the face. Every tear drop consists of three layers: an outer hydrophobic oily layer prevent evaporation of tears or overflowing onto the cheeks, an aqueous/watery layer that transports various nutrients into the cornea, and a mucus layer coating the cornea to maintain the eye tissues moisturized. The chemical composition of tear fluid includes 98 percent water, lipids, glucose, mucus/mucin, and protein-based hormones such as prolactin, lipocalin, lacritin, and lactoferrin. Other chemicals in tears involve adrenocorticotropic hormones; leu-enkephalin like endorphin; immunoglobulins; lysozyme; as well as salt/electrolytes and minerals such as manganese, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and urea (Helmenstine, 2016 and Hoyt, 2008).
What Triggers Tear Ducts to Weep and Health Benefits of Crying?
There are three major responses that trigger the tear glands to weep, resulting in three different types of tears including, basal, reflex, and emotional tears. Basal tears are normally triggered to nourish, clean, and keep the eye always hydrated or lubricated. Additionally, basal tears contain mostly water, electrolytes, and lysozymes to protect the eyes against bacterial infections. Compared to basal tears, reflex tears are produced in much larger volume causing watery eyes associated with yawning, coughing, sneezing, or vomiting (Hoyt, 2008).
Reflex tears are triggered in response to providing protection of the eyes from toxic irritants such as smoke, raw onions, tear gas and damage from harmful foreign substances like dust or bright light. On the other hand, emotional or psychic tears are triggered in response to extreme emotions such as happiness, sadness, or pain (Helmenstine, 2016). Emotional tears contain protein-based hormones prolactin, Leu-enkephalin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone to reduce pain, recover from grief, stabilize mood/restore emotional balance, and control other physical reactions such as slowed breathing and increased heart rates (Gračanin et al., 2014).
Research Done About Crying
Several studies about crying encompass the physiological and psychological effects of tears in humans. According to the American Psychology Association journal, gender and cultural differences are some of the factors to linked individual’s propensity to cry. Based on gender, women are found to cry more (about 5.3 times a month) than men who on cry an average of 1.3 times per month. It is argued that the high levels of testosterone in men may inhibit crying, while high prolactin levels in women promote crying. In the context of culture, crying may be more prominent in countries characterized by greater social resources and freedom of expressions such as the United States and Sweden compared to developing or poor countries like Nigeria and Ghana (Collier, 2014).
On the other hand, studies support the self-soothing effects of crying. The findings from the studies demonstrate the mediating role of crying in terms of cognitive, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms such as homeostatic regulation, mood stability, and relief (Gračanin et al., 2014).
Collier, L. (2014). “Why We Cry.” Journal of American Psychology Association, 45 (2), pp. 47. Accessed from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/cry.aspx
Gračanin, A., Bylsma, L. M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2014). Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Front Psychol, 2014; 5: 502 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502
Helmenstine, A. (2016). “Chemical Composition of a Teardrop”. Published 17 August, 2016; Science Notes and Projects. < https://sciencenotes.org/chemical-composition-teardrop/> accessed on 17th August, 2017.
Hoyt, Alia. (2008). “How Crying Works“. Published 2 July, 2008; HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/crying.htm> accessed on 17thAugust, 2017.