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The Healing Power of Tears

Updated: Sep 22

Scientists have studied the healing power of tears for years, despite the erroneous belief in society that crying is weakness. Counselors and psychologists have long seen the healthy release that can come from crying when releasing emotional pain. Recently, physiological benefits of crying have become more clear.


"Crying helps you recover from grief and pain. When you cry for an extended period of time, your body produces hormones like oxytocin and endorphins" (Bylsma, Gracanin & Vingerhoets, 2019). These natural hormones can provide a therapeutic benefit to both physical and emotional pain.


Bylsma and colleagues (2019) found the production of tears to be "both an arousing distress signal and means to restore physiological balance (and perhaps also psychological) depending on how and when this complex behavior is displayed." The presence and production of emotional tears is unique to human beings. "Distress calls produced by human infants share the production of distress calls with the young of most other mammals and birds, which are typically displayed when they are separated from their mothers" (Bylsma, Gracanin & Vingerhoets).


In addition to emotional tears, "tears may be secreted for the normal irrigation of the eyes, for cleansing the eyes in response to an irritant, or as a result of pain or emotion" (Griffith, Hall & Fields, 2011). The chemical composition of tears produced vary based on the need at the time. "Tears contain hundreds of proteins that appear to affect the surface viscosity of the tear film; otherwise the physiologic profile of tears varies according to the type of tears being produced--basal, irritant, or emotional."


Griffith and colleagues describe tears produced in response to human emotions "are very different from basal and irritant tears, both chemically and in volume. They contain large quantities of hormones also secreted by other organs as a normal stress response" (Griffith, Hall & Fields, 2011). By relieving our bodies of hormones and toxins that contribute to elevated stress levels our mood can improve.


"Additionally emotional tears hold increased amounts of potassium and manganese" (Griffith, Hall & Fields, 2011) described as "by-products of the stress response and toxins in the body. Ridding the body of toxins through crying can provide both a positive impact physically and psychologically by "relieving the effects of stress."


Research has revealed several benefits to releasing emotional tears.


Crying may benefit your health by:

  • Detoxifying the body

  • Helping self-soothe

  • Dulling pain

  • Improving mood

  • Rallying support

  • Recovering from grief

  • Restoring emotional balance

  • Improving sleep

  • Strengthening the immune system

When it comes to crying, there is nothing to be ashamed of.


"Tears are a normal, healthy way to express emotion" (Marcin, 2017). Repressing emotions can actually cause more anguish and lead to other difficulties. It is very therapeutic to just let the tears flow, with one caveat.


Should crying interfere with everyday activities however, it could be a symptom of depression. Talking with your doctor, a support person, or a mental health provider can help you work through any overwhelming sadness. There is no need to suffer alone.



Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached through emailing her at teresa@jacobsoncounseling.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.jacobsoncounseling.org.



References



Bylsma, L,M., Gracanin, A., Vingerhoets, J.J.M. (2019). The neurobiology of human crying.

Clin Auton Res. 29(1) 63-73. DOI:10.1007/s10286-018-0526-y Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6201288/


Bylsma, L,M., Gracanin, A., Vingerhoets, J.J.M. (2020). A clinical practice review of crying research.

American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pst0000342


Griffith, M.B., Hall, J.M. and Fields, B. (2011). Crying that heals: Concept Evaluation. Journal of Holistic

Nursing. DOI:10.1177/0898010110393355


Marcin, A. (2017). 9 ways crying may benefit your health. Healthline. Retrieved from

https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-crying#selfsoothing



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