The Surprising Benefits Of Tears
Next time you catch yourself suppressing tears, you may want to rethink that. Research shows that crying has some important benefits for releasing stress. Keeping that stress bottled up by suppressing tears isn’t good for your health.
Consider this. Researchers have found that in our culture men are 4 times less likely to cry than women. But at the same time, stress-related deaths among men are much more common. In fact, suicide rates among men are 4 times greater than among women. And on average, men live 5 years less than women.
Scientists think that emotional release such as crying may make a difference.
Why Men Don’t Cry
First, it’s important to understand that there’s actually a biological reason why we men don’t cry as much as women. So don’t worry, because I’m definitely not going to suggest that you should start watching chick flicks and tearing up. Because we men have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of prolactin (at least hopefully!) than women, scientists believe that we may actually not be able to cry as often as women.
But even though we are biologically programmed not to cry as much, science also shows that men in our culture cry less often than they should in order to stay healthy.
Consider this. Historically, crying among men was considered to be a sign of manliness. Not just in other cultures, but in our own. For thousands of years politicians and warriors were respected for crying publicly. It was thought that crying showed that a man had a good moral character and was able to feel deeply.
Even as recently as the 1800s men cried publicly. Abraham Lincoln was known to cry - sometimes strategically - as were other leading politicians.
But things have changed. Research shows that boys are now taught not to cry. And that may cause life-long harm.
Types of Tears
Believe it or not, there are people who study tears. And what they’ve found is that there are three different types of tears. The first type is what they call basal tears. These are the tears that keep the eyes lubricated and safe from infection at all time. There are rare conditions such as Sjogren's syndrome in which some people cannot make enough basal tears. But in most of us, this isn’t a problem.
The second type of tears are reflexive tears. These are the tears that form when slicing an onion or if something gets in your eye. They serve the purpose of flushing the eyes.
But the third type of tears, emotional tears, a special, say the experts. Emotional tears contain hormones and proteins not found in basal or reflexive tears. And those who study tears claim that suppressing emotional tears is bad for health.
Benefits of Tears
One of the most studied benefits of emotional tears is stress relief. One of the world’s foremost experts on tears says that some of the stuff found in emotional tears are things that would increase stress hormones in the body if kept around. Crying is actually proven to lower stress hormones.
Another expert on crying has rather poetically described crying (emotional tears) as a way to give form to distress. In so doing, research shows that those men who cry when distressed are better able to release it and improve their health. Reducing chronic stress is proven to improve heart health, brain health, and whole body health.
Believe it or not, studies also show that crying literally makes men stronger. And research finds that men who cry publicly (such as professional athletes or politicians) are more confident and have lower stress than those who do not.
Harm Of Not Crying
If crying can relieve stress, then obviously not crying should have the effect of increasing stress. And it turns out to be true.
Studies show that men who hold back tears suffer worse health. Also, interestingly, holding back emotional tears may also lead to the inability to produce even basal tears. Studies have found that among those who suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome (a condition in which one doesn’t produce enough tears) a large percentage repress emotional expression.
Studies have also shown that crying is a powerful way to alleviate depression. In fact, crying is far more effective at relieving symptoms of depression than antidepressant drugs. But men who don’t cry don’t benefit. Instead, they suffer worsening depression.
How To Cry Like A Man
Because we’ve been taught not to cry, many of us aren’t very good at it. In fact, we may have suppressed tears so often, we forget what the feeling even means. Instead, many of us may be used to expressing those strong feelings through aggression, impatience, or self-destructive behaviors.
You don’t need to cry more often than you actually feel the need to do so. But experts say that we should get in touch with our feelings as a first step. Now that may seem way too touchy-feely for some, but remember that traditionally crying has been considered manly because it showed that the man was in touch with his feelings. That was seen as the sign of a strong man, a leader, and a warrior.
So rather than trying force tears, slow down your emotional reaction time a little bit. When you find yourself feeling irritable or aggressive, stop for a moment and see if you might be feeling sadness, hurt, or loss.
Even just experiencing the subtleties of your feelings is proven to have powerful health benefits. And then, if ever tears flow, don’t hold them back. Remember that real men do cry. And they live longer, healthier, happier lives for it.