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For over twenty years as physician, I’ve witnessed, time and again, the healing power of tears. Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Also, you can have tears of joy, say when a child is born or tears of relief when a difficulty has passed. In my own life, I am grateful when I can cry. It feels cleansing, a way to purge pent up emotions so they don’t lodge in my body as stress symptoms such as fatigue or pain. To stay healthy and release stress, I encourage my patients to cry. For both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.
In my books “The Empath’s Survival Guide” and “Emotional Freedom,” I discuss the numerous health benefits of tears. Like the ocean, tears are salt water. Protectively they lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and they contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes. Our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each kind has different healing roles. For instance, reflex tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust. The second kind, continuous tears, are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated–these contain a chemical called “lysozyme” which functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection. Tears also travel to the nose through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.
Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it’s possible that that elephants and gorillas do too. Other mammals and also salt-water crocodiles produce reflex tears which are protective and lubricating.
Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart. You don’t want to hold tears back. Patients sometimes say, “Please excuse me for crying. I was trying hard not to. It makes me feel weak.” My heart goes out to them when I hear this. I know where that sentiment comes from: parents who were uncomfortable around tears, a society that tells us we’re weak for crying–in particular that “powerful men don’t cry.” I reject these notions. The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self awareness to cry. These are the people who impress me, not those who put up some macho front of faux-bravado.
Try to let go of outmoded, untrue, conceptions about crying. It is good to cry. It is healthy to cry. This helps to emotionally clear sadness and stress. Crying is also essential to resolve grief, when waves of tears periodically come over us after we experience a loss. Tears help us process the loss so we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are a set up for depression if we suppress these potent feelings. When a friend apologized for curling up in the fetal position on my floor, weeping, depressed over a failing romance, I told her, “Your tears blessed my floor. There is nothing to apologize for.”
I’ve been this enthusiastic about crying for years. In fact, during my psychiatric residency at UCLA when supervisors and I watched videos of me with patients, they’d point out that I’d smile when a patient cried. “That’s inappropriate,” they’d say. I disagreed then; still do. I wasn’t smiling because my patients were depressed or grieving. I was smiling because they were courageously healing depression or other difficult emotions with tears. I was happy for their breakthrough. In my life, too, I love to cry. I cry whenever I can. Wish I could more. Thank God our bodies have this capacity. I hope you too can appreciate the experience. Let your tears flow to purify stress and negativity.
Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” (Sounds True, 2017)
16 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Tears”
I understand that crying can be beneficial to release stress, but lately I cry often and at inappropriate times, in my opinion. The slightest thing can reduce me to tears. I have always been told that I am “too sensitive”. My father would say, “Why are you crying? There is nothing to cry about.” He never said it in a mean way, but more like a helpless way. He didn’t know how to make it stop or what was causing my emotional pain. My mother wouldn’t talk to us when were crying. She she would say to come back and talk to her later when we were through with our crying. I would go to my bedroom to cry.
I have been under a lot of stress lately, but the amount of crying is overwhelming me. What starts off as shedding a few tears over a sad song, can quickly turn into sobbing.
I really want to understand this more. I want to read a book or watch something to explain to me the science of crying. Is it really beneficial to cry several times a day? Sometimes when there is no trigger at all?
I want to get it together and compose myself. I don’t want cry in the middle of CVS for no reason. I have to go back to school after the summer to teach and I can’t be breaking down in front of my students for no reason at all. And why am I crying in the middle of this beautiful summer? It’s gorgeous outside and there’s nothing to cry about. No one has died. I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I haven’t lost a romantic love. I am not going through a divorce. I am not in any pain from a physical condition.
I don’t understand.
Please read Dr. Orloff’s book The Empath’s Survival Guide to learn what it means to be an empath and how to manage your sensitivities. You can get more information on it at https://drjudithorloff.com/empath-survival-guide-description/.
Going through grief and loss always makes you cry rivers of tears
This was nice to read I’m in therapy I have only started crying after the death of 3 of my children one just not long ago to suicide iv been in a really dark place recently I’m just hoping the tears will help me realise some stress I have never felt so much anxiety in my life as I do now but I will b getting a book
There are some days when I feel like I cannot stop crying, all day. Luckily I am on summer break and not teaching right now. This happened to me the other day. I literally sobbed for hours. I started to become panicky because I didn’t know if it was normal to cry like that. I really don’t have any current big stressors. I do have a trauma-filled past though, and sometimes I feel like my intense emotions are going to swallow me whole.
hello i have your book the empath’s survival guide and i can’t find the part in the book about tears. i am having a really hard time at the moment and i am crying a lot so i would love to read the pages about crying. thank you
I am a male who has held his tears in most of his life . It was not till my later years I was able to release them . Every time I do I feel like I have pushed the reset button . I wish I had found this out much earlier in life . There is nothing wrong with crying and everything right about it . It has collateral beauty .
Me too. I was taught big boys don’t. Cry. Unfortunately I even taught my children that. After the loss of my son to fentanyl. The floodgates opened up. I finally realized I was lied too. Crying is good for us. I’m still learning how good it really is. I’m also wondering if I cry to much now. I seem to be so empathetic towards movies, stories and people I don’t even know. Its like I feel their pain now. I believe it can be a good thing. I should probably read this book…lol
Thank you so much Dr. Orloff…..I as an empath am extremely emotional and feel like an outcast. After 2 major relationship losses I have been crying about 5 out of 7 days every week….hopeful it is healing me……sometimes feel like losing my mind….
Omg!!! Me too!!! That’s why I’m on here to see if it’s only me. Thank you ❤️
Thank you very much Dr. Judith Orloff I have learned new knowledge from your articles and I am trying to apply changes in my daily life . You have open my eyes I am sensitive empath, I appreciate.
My name is Mike I’m from New York I been having a lot of things on my plate emotionally feeling depression anxiety & hopeless daily still greiving loss of mom & long distance relatives & my living arrangements job loss & all these things piling up my heart it was completely burdened. But I’ve been crying through it all even finding a small isolated area in my apartment away from the traffic because I’m on the first floor and it helps me so much I read my Bible and I been praying daily asking God to help me in all areas that I can’t seem to help myself. I was delighted after reading your article and I’m going to purchase your books thank you so much for reading
Bless you. I cry everyday… and it is joyous. As a 63 year old man, life becomes more precious and Holy every passing day. I see the body decaying and yet I Am not this body nor is it mine. Why isn’t anyone shouting from the rooftops, ” It’s ok, everyone. Let’s jump into this final chapter with the happiness and contentment that is our true, omnipresent nature”. There are no others. There is no other. How sublime. All of This, I Am. None of this, I Am is Love and Wisdom. To love, laugh and cry while being overwhelmed with childlike awe and wonder at The Mystery of it All. Immortal and fearless, we are.
I too have difficulty crying I find myself crying for others than healing for myself do a lot of empath struggle with this also
I wish I could cry. I use to cry a lot when I was younger. My heart has been broken so many times, I have completely shut down and don’t cry anymore. I am working on opening my heart back up. I have ordered two of your books to help me.0