Weekly Feature

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Do Cry Out Loud

May 29, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Crying obviously signals our distress to others, but the biological and psychosocial reasons for crying must be more profound than this; otherwise, people would never cry in private. The guilt and shame associated with crying are familiar to many of us; but those who consistently suppress their urge to cry may be doing themselves more harm than they realize.

Crying: It Does a Body Good

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Research suggests that the physical act of crying is meant to eliminate waste, as you do when urinating or sweating. It also lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. According to the San Mateo Daily Journal, studies done by biochemist Dr. William H. Frey have demonstrated that emotional tears contain more toxins than protective tears (the ones that moisten dry eyes or that you shed when cutting an onion).
A 1982 New York Times article that explores “The Biological Role of Emotional Tears” mentions a study in which 100 individuals with stress-related illness like colitis and ulcers were compared to a group of 50 individuals without stress-related illness. The first group cried less frequently and was more likely to consider crying a weakness.
Professor Alan Wolfelt of the University of Colorado told Vibrant Life, "In my clinical experience with thousands of mourners, I have observed changes in physical [appearance] following the expression of tears ... Not only do people feel better after crying; they also look better."

The Pleasures of Sadness

Sometimes, we derive a certain enjoyment from crying. Filmmakers certainly recognize the power of tears. Just think of the popularity of “Titanic.” The film was a box-office blockbuster and Celine Dion’s records topped national and international charts.

Some people feel such pleasure from crying that it’s prompted a new trend: crying clubs. Crying clubs originated in Japan. Instead of going to karaoke clubs after work, Japanese salarymen would watch weepy movies in a group. According to a 2007 article in the Independent, Britain’s first crying club, Loss, was modeled after the fictional club in Gunter Grass’ novel "The Tin Drum." Members met at a bar, where they chopped onions and listened to somber ballads in order to provoke tears and induce catharsis.

Boys Don’t Cry—Or Do They?

The Vibrant Life article mentions a study indicating that boys and girls cry at about equal rates before puberty. Afterwards, however, women cry between four and five times more often than men. The hormone prolactin, which helps produce tears, is also associated with the production of breast milk.
Previously, society has seemed less accepting of men who cried; however, USA Today offers evidence that a woman crying in public now evokes less sympathy than a man. Both Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres drew criticism for their tears, while Bill Clinton and several sports coaches drew sympathy. Research at Penn State University indicated that men who cry receive more positive responses than women, and that a moist eye elicits a kinder response than actual crying.

Weeping at Your Desk

Unfortunately, crying in the workplace is taboo for nearly everyone. In a 2006 New York Times article, Dr. Kent Sepkowitz defends the seeming cold-hearted demeanor of many hospital doctors. He argues that it serves a necessary function: it distracts the patient and the family from the emotional pain of death. “[T]he never-ending supply of dry-eyed doctors run amok, full of opinions and chatter and contradictory advice. A tear (much less a sob) from one would shatter the entire unnatural protocol.”
Alexandra Levit, author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College,” explains in a piece for the Huffington Post that crying at work may negatively color co-workers’ and supervisors’ impressions of you, suggesting that you don’t handle stress well.
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