Driving past the art museum on San Juan Island, the sign for the latest exhibit was the “highway of tears.” This made me think of something that had happened to me lately. I had been suffering some work-related stress for a long time and for various reasons had not been able to talk about it or cry about it at work. Like Rosie the Riveter, I had to be strong and keep going in spite of the pain I felt. After one particularly bad incident, what had been a lingering cough from a one-day cold and really bad pollen, was exacerbated into full-blown asthma attacks. I tried taking days off from work, thinking a day of rest here and there would be enough. Instead my asthma attacks became more severe.
As Bessel van der Kolk, says in his famous book by the same name, “the body keeps the score.” My body had been worn out by a really difficult work situation for over a year while trying to earn my hours for licensing, and my immune system was way, way down. Even the nebulizer wasn’t enough to take away my body’s negative reaction to the stress I had experienced. As my symptoms seemed insurmountable and increasingly worse, I called my doctor’s office yet again for help. On the phone, as I began to explain all the triggers for my symptoms I choked up, had to take some deep breaths, and explained what was happening. The nurse was very understanding, and set an appointment for me. Afterwards, I cried a “highway of tears” and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for me physically, I began to feel better that day. I no longer needed a nebulizer, what I really needed was the release that only tears could bring. Sometimes tears, not laughter, are the best medicine.
I am still in recovery, and will be taking a week off to take care of myself and heal as much as I can before returning to work. But I thank God for that nurse who happened to be there at the right time, and let me cry. It was a turning point for me physically and emotionally. I felt better and my body began to recover. For the first time in a month of being sick, I felt better.
I have many clients and their parents who feel bad about crying. They believe the incorrect statements told to them that crying is shameful, a sign of weakness, and proof of mental illness. Let me tell you the truth about crying. Tears are healing and healthy. They are a natural physiological response to stress. Both women and men cry. The following are some great benefits to crying:
Why Crying is Good for Us:
- Crying is a great way to regulate our emotions and soothe our wounded souls.
- Crying is a great social connector. When good people see us cry, they want to help out, which makes them feel good too.
- Crying promotes attachment. When we cry with someone who really cares, we form a deep bond with that person. Nothing says I love you like someone just letting us cry and let it all out.
- Crying helps us feel better. Shedding tears helps our bodies release oxytocin and endorphins,the “feel good and warm fuzzies” neurotransmitters released by our central nervous system.
- Tears release stress hormones. When we have a lot built up in our system for a long time, the best way for them to go is out.
For various reasons, there are times when you might need to cry and you can’t, just like I did for over a year at work. Tell yourself that it’s okay to cry, and when the time is right, the tears will come. Watch tear-jerking movies, listen to sad music, talk to friends and family members. And when those tears finally give you the sweet release, enjoy the strength and healing that comes afterward. You deserve it!