Many don’t think that crying is natural or normal. Men especially, perceive breaking into tears as a sign of weakness. But crying can be therapeutic. Few realise that through the day one often “swallows in” painful feelings and thoughts. Crying has long been believed to be the body’s way of releasing this pain from the system. Now even research seems to prove this theory.

Biochemist William Frey and his team have done extensive study in the past 15 years on tears and emotional crying. They found that stress-induced tears actually remove toxic ‘substances’ from the body that build up during times of emotional difficulty. The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in the blood serum. Chemicals that build up in the body during stress are removed by tears, and this actually lowers stress. These include the endorphin leucine-enkephalin, which helps to control pain, and prolactin, a hormone which regulates milk production in mammals.
As Dr Frey explains in his report, “crying is an exocrine process in which a substance comes out of the body. Other exocrine processes, like exhaling, urinating, defecating and sweating, release toxic substances from the body. There’s every reason to think crying does the same, releasing chemicals that the body produces in response to stress.”

Risk of not crying
Familial dysautonomia, a rare inherited condition, refers to the inability to shed tears. Children affected by this condition cry without tears and seem to have a highly exaggerated reaction to mild stress. But many among us intentionally choose to suppress tears. New research suggests that this can pose a danger to our health.

Dr Margaret crepe au of Marquette University College of nursing compared men and women with stress related disorders (ulcers, colitis etc) to other healthy persons of similar age and life circumstances. She found that those with the stress-related disorders were more likely to regard crying as a sign of weakness or loss of control. Also, those who were ill were less likely to cry in a variety of situations. The findings suggest that if emotions are not released by crying these will eventually find an outlet in ways that could adversely affect the body and cause disease. During the corporate stress management programmes that I have facilitated, several young professionals sitting in the audience burst into tears when introduced to relaxing imagery – a common stress management technique. The reason for this is simple. Instead of relaxing, their mind conjures up images of stressful events and their pent-up emotions find release through the natural act of crying.

Men can cry too 
Culturally, man are prevented from expressing emotions by crying – a restriction that does not apply to women. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that women shed tears at least 47 times a year while men cry just seven times a year. Crying in man is also much less obvious and lasts for a shorter time. But since crying provides emotional release and helps reduce stress, it is natural that suppressing tears may increase one’s susceptibility to stress-related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are more common among men. As a therapist one the biggest challenges is guiding people to get more in touch with their emotions. A series of relaxation exercises, as also narrating painful memories usually gets men closer to accepting what they feel. The result is that they are able to cry and this makes them feel much better.
Letting go and crying when you feel the need to, may thus be healthier in the long run.

This article was written for the Mumbai Mirror and appeared in print on 25th December 2018. Here is the Link:–N3OOSEMZ5uiZUm7sfmPEieAwI