It is futile, and indeed counter-productive, to start this article with comparing the health benefits of smiling/laughing and crying. I think the present boom in the comedy sub-sector of our entertainment industry is evidence enough that Nigerians appreciate the NEED to be happy, even for a while (almost to the extent of over-rating it!). What we may not as yet appreciate is the benefits of crying, and very well too, when the need arises.
Have you ever had it to the neck, like here (demonstrates); with your chest full and heavy as a gas cylinder? Have even felt like hitting the switch and letting the world stop? Have ever felt like crying, weeping, shedding tears? They said ‘big girls don’t cry’, ‘a man shouldn’t cry (like a woman)’, ‘crying is a sign of weakness’…but hey!
A new command I give you today, DON’T LISTEN TO THEM!
Experts agree on the health benefits of crying.
"Crying slows your breathing and can have a calming effect," John Ryder, Ph.D., author of Positive Directions.
In his intriguing article, “The Miracle of Tears”, author Jerry Bergman writes: “Tears are just one of many miracles which work so well that we take them for granted every day.”
Here, then, are seven ways tears and the phenomenon we call “crying” heal us physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually.
1. Tears help us see.
Starting with the most basic function of tears, they enable us to see. Literally. Tears not only lubricate our eyeballs and eyelids, they also prevent dehydration of our various mucous membranes. No lubrication, no eyesight. People who have had medical conditions like keratoconjuctivitis sicca or xerophthalmia (from vitamin deficiency for eg) would appreciate this fact. Bergman observes: “Without tears, life would be drastically different for humans–in the short run enormously uncomfortable, and in the long run eyesight would be blocked out altogether.”
2. Tears kill bacteria.
Our tears contain lysozyme, a natural ‘antibacterial and antiviral’ agent which by default helps in fighting off all the germs we pick up on dusty taxis, farms, and all those places the nasty little germs make their homes and procreate.
3. Tears remove toxins.
Biochemist William Frey, who has been researching tears for as long as I’ve writing or more, found in one study that emotional tears–those formed in distress or grief–contained more toxic by-products than tears of irritation (like onion peeling). In other words, emotional tears help remove toxins from our body that build up courtesy of stress. Hey, you know the cost of detoxifying agents in the supermarkets/pharmacies!
4. Crying can elevate mood.
That’s why one feels better after crying! Do you know what your manganese level is? No, neither do I. But chances are that you will feel better if it’s lower because overexposure to manganese can cause bad stuffs like anxiety, nervousness, irritability, fatigue, aggression, emotional disturbance and the rest of the feelings that live inside your happy head rent-free. The act of crying can lower a person’s manganese level. And just like with the toxins I mentioned in the previous point, emotional tears contain 24 per cent higher albumin protein concentration – responsible for transporting many small molecules – than irritation tears.
5. Crying lowers stress.
Tears really are like emotional perspiration in that exercising and crying both relieve stress. For real. In his article, Bergman explains that tears remove some of the chemicals built up in the body from stress, like the endorphin leucine-enkaphalin and prolactin, the hormone which maybe overproduced in pituitary tumor and affects mood and stress tolerance.
The opposite is true too. Bergman writes, “Suppressing tears increases stress levels, and contributes to diseases aggravated by stress, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and peptic ulcers.”
6. Tears build community.
In her “Science Digest” article, writer Ashley Montagu argued that crying not only contributes to good health, but it also builds community. People will be more inclined to attend to the crying one with patience and care, and same disposition tends to continue long after the crying stops. Tears help communication and foster community.
7. Tears release feelings.
Even if you haven’t just been through something traumatic or are severely depressed, the average Akpos goes through his day accumulating conflicts and resentments. Sometimes they gather inside the limbic system of the brain and in certain corners of the heart. Crying is cathartic. It lets the devils out before they wreak all kind of havoc with the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Writes John Bradshaw in his bestseller Home Coming: “All these feelings need to be felt. We need to stomp and storm; to sob and cry; to perspire and tremble.” I think this is gospel, and should be preached!
In summary, sometimes, definitely, the most cleansing, healing thing to do is let the tears loose.
Now that we’ve explored some of the health benefits of crying, how should one cry?
1. Be Specific about the reason you’re crying:
"Crying forces you to ask yourself questions about what's going on underneath your surface," John Ryder quoted earlier explains. The better able you are to pinpoint the reasons behind your tears, the less the situation will escalate in your mind. For example, ‘I feel frustrated because my computer shut down without saving will give you perspective in a way that I feel frustrated because the whole world is against me can't.
2. Talk about it:
"Part of the reason you cry is that you're seeking support," says Ryder. "You're showing that something hurts." So instead of locking yourself in the bathroom, find a sympathetic ear and unleash your feelings. Talking through the issues will help clarify them, and a hug or a smile can go a long way in improving the intrinsic healing power of crying.
3. Take charge of the tap:
Cry at the height of the build-up of energy with feelings. Allow the ‘cup’ to get full and then shed it! Trust me, the satisfaction is optimal that way! It feels like walking downhill after a tiresome uphill trek.
Credits: WebMD archive, Anna Davies, Therese Borchard.