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The Crying Game: Does shedding tears help shed stress?

If you’re like me, you love a good cry every once in a while. Every so often, when you’re overwhelmed with emotions and stress, crying can bring you a sense of relief and calmness.

Did you know that crying actually has some health benefits?

There are three different varieties of tears that your body secretes on a regular basis.  First is the reflex tear, which protects your eyes from bad particles and dust, especially when they’ve been irritated by smoke, chemicals, and other types of gas. These tears are comprised of 98 percent water, and act as a sort of shield for the eye.  The next type of tear is continual, which keeps the eyes and nose lubricated and healthy.  Continual tears contain lysozyme, an antibacterial chemical that protects the eye from infections.

The third type is emotional tears, which release stress hormones in the body. Whenever you have an emotional cry, your body releases prolactin, a major stress hormone, and other stress hormones. Thus, after your crying session, your heart rate and breathing will slow down and you will grow calmer. Prolactin actually helps create tears as well: women tend to have higher levels of prolactin than men, which could explain why women are more likely to cry than men. However, prolactin is also released through sweat, and men tend to sweat more than women, so this does not mean that women are naturally more stressed out than men.

According to Dr. Judith Orloff, emotional tears encourage productions of endorphins in your body, leaving you feeling much more happy and relieved than before your cry. In fact, Dr. Orloff actually recommends crying to her patients to improve their emotional well being.

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Crying Releases Stress Hormones

High levels of stress hormones can actually harm your body, especially brain cells. Specifically, the hypothalamus, pre-frontal cortex, and hippocampus are the regions most damaged by stress hormones. In fact, these three brain regions are connected to the reduction of stress hormones—and damage to all three is often linked to mood disorders.

Your brain isn’t the only body part under the fire of stress hormones. Research has shown that stress hormones most notably harm the cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and immune system—as well as most other organ systems in the body. Because the body sheds stress hormones through tears, crying can actually help protect your organs and brain. Not only do you feel better, but your body grows healthier while you cry.

The benefits of crying do not end with simple health benefits. Crying can actually help form relationships! According to a 2009 study completed by evolutionary biologist Dr. Oren Hasson, emotional tears can actually build relationships between two people.  Early on, people cried to gain empathy from enemies and garner sympathy from other groups—leading to alliances and help.  Nowadays, crying can strengthen connections between family, friends, spouses, and associates. According to Hasson, crying can indicate how much you care for or trust another person, further developing the interpersonal relationship

No matter how you slice it, crying can actually benefit both your physical and emotional health (even if you feel awful while bawling your eyes out).  So next time you feel the urge to shed a tear, let ‘er rip and release those stress hormones.

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