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Tears:  How They Help the Body Heal,
as Well as the Soul

It is said, “healing the soul is like peeling an onion.”  This is true.  The layers of pain, resentment, bitterness, and sorrow come off one by one.  No matter how many conferences attended and books read in hopes of getting more comfortable in our skins, most of us come to a notable realization: The hidden pain in our psyches hasn’t gone away.  It takes more than understanding.  We are going to have to deal with it.

Here is the crux of the matter: If we want to be whole, we have to fight against all inclinations to gulp down feelings.  Instead, when we feel tears at the corners of our eyes, we must admit what we are feeling, then allow the tears to flow, in a place where we feel safe.  Most often, this takes place in privacy.  Without a doubt, your body and your soul are healthier when you let those tears flow.  Trust this natural, God-given process.  Remind yourself that this emotional work does pay off.  Freedom from your inner pain is on the way.  Days of living with less stress lie ahead.  Learning to grieve life’s losses in this manner was a major factor in my becoming well after having to wage a serious battle to stay alive.

My “Get Well Program” involved praying, meditating, and studying Scriptures.  However, I also journaled and listened to my dreams.  One dream in particular spoke loud and clear about all my inner angst.  In this dream, I am shown a huge mountain of frozen tears.  The dream scene is an awesomely cold place!  I awaken knowing that a piece of truth has paid me a visit.  I see, clearly, that a mountain of frozen tears resides within my psyche.  Those frozen tears need to come down, but they have to come down slowly, not all at once.  I have to own up to all that stored grief, now so remote and hard to reach. 

Eventually, my mountain of frozen tears began to thaw, allowing me to feel and to release that old, buried pain.  I learned the value of tears and the need to let them have their way when they want to come.  Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).  The fact remains that coming to truth can take a lot of time and diligent effort when we have repressed a great deal of emotion, hoping it will “go away”--if we just stay busy enough.  Or, drink enough … do enough drugs … recreate more.  Clearly, if we want the change which brings a better life--one that is honoring to God--we have to do the work.  And, for a lot of us, tears are part of it.

The truth about tears is that they help to heal our psyche (soul).  And, amazingly enough, this little bit of water that begs to run down our faces helps our bodies.

Science indicates that tears are always present in the eyes and contain water, mucins, proteins, oils and electrolytes to keep the eyes moist, protect the eyes and facilitate the smooth movement of the lids over the surface.  Tears are essential and their functions are many.

William H. Frey II, Ph.D. and Muriel Langseth, are authors of Crying: The Mystery of Tears.1  Dr. Frey, a neuroscientist, at the Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, suggests that physical benefits are gained through releasing emotional tears.  He studied tears for 15 years, analyzing two types:  1) tears that come while crying when we are emotionally upset or stressed; and 2) tears arising from eye irritants, including onions.  Dr. Frey and his colleagues also found that all tears are not the same and that stress-induced tears have a 24% higher protein concentration than tears caused by eye irritants.  Dr. Frey proposed that weeping is an excretory process which facilitates the removal of substances that build up during times of emotional stress.

One of the compounds found by Dr. Frey and his colleagues in human tears is Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH).  This chemical is known to increase in the blood during stress.  Dr. Frey’s studies demonstrate that 85% of women and 73% of men feel better after crying.  This indicates that suppressing tears over long periods of time may reduce our ability to alleviate stress, while increasing our risk of stress-related disorders, which include high blood pressure, heart problems, certain ulcers, and perhaps even memory loss.

More and newer research is showing that our bodies are helped when we pay attention to those moments when we feel tears arising, or when we have a lump in the throat.  On an Internet site, Nurse Connect, in a posting titled “Nursing Dynamics and Clinical Issues,” a nurse writes: “Without tears most nurses would be emotional wrecks.  Let's face it, nursing is an emotional profession; on any given day we may witness pain, suffering and death, or extreme joy, relief and gratitude … encouraging a colleague not to cry, to ‘be strong,’ is detrimental to their psyche.”  This nurse concluded that chemicals built up in the body during stressful moments are removed by tears.  We all have challenges, disappointments, and stressful times.  Yielding to a good cry is a definite way of lowering our stress level and potentially helping our bodies to release harmful stress-related chemicals.

Ultimately, allowing our tears, permits both physical and emotional benefits.  For one, tears carry a promise for better times ahead.  We can be certain that clarity about what is at the root of our sadness, confusion or anxiety brings a certain joy of its own.  Progress is gained and we are encouraged to keep moving forward with increased understanding about how to help our bodies stay healthy.

1 William H. Frey, Muriel Langseth, The Mystery of Tears (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1977).

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