Do you hold back tears or are you an emotional waterfall?
Despite decades of study, little is known about tears, but there’s no doubt crying is a healthy, natural and important process.
Did you know that humans are the only animals who shed emotional tears?
For any of you who swear your favorite pet has actually wept, those tears were either lubricating (providing moisture) or irritant (cleansing) tears. Humans have those types of tears too. But, only people cry when sad, grieving, frustrated, tired, even happy.
Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey, at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, discovered that emotional tears contain a 24 percent higher concentration of protein than reflex tears. Researchers have yet to determine the full significance of these proteins, but note emotional tears also contain stress hormones including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). A predictor of stress, ACTH has been linked to high blood pressure, heart problems, peptic ulcers and other health issues. Emotional tears also contain chemicals with antidepressant effects, and they stimulate the production of natural endorphins and painkillers.
Dr. Frey believes emotional tears allow us to physically release the chemicals that build up during stress. “Crying is an excretory process, removing harmful materials or waste products. Literally, we might be ‘crying it out.’”
Really, it doesn't take a scientist to tell us crying makes us feel better. Most women agree they feel more emotionally balanced after a good cry. Other women use meditation, exercise or venting to a trusted friend to achieve the same emotional release. All of these activities have been found to produce hormones, endorphins and other neurochemicals that relieve anxiety and elevate mood.
Poor men! Studies show women cry four times more than men (on average once a week, compared to 1.4 times a month for men--although, honestly, I think I've seen my husband cry 1.4 times since we've been married!) Hormones are likely the main reason for this discrepancy. In adolescence, boys and girls cry about the same amount, until puberty takes over. Crying is also a social issue. It’s far more acceptable for a woman to cry, but men are discouraged from showing such emotion. The protein prolactin may also be a factor. Women have 60 percent higher levels of prolactin in their blood then men. Another surprising fact: men’s tear glands are smaller than women’s.