By Dale Peterson, MD Building Health

It is not uncommon to hear one of my granddaughters cry.

The tears may be triggered by any number of events, some of which are serious and others that seem quite trivial from an adult perspective.  Whatever the cause, the tears are therapeutic.  The incident is quickly forgotten and life goes on.

I could always tell when my maternal grandfather was upset or didn't agree with something that was being said.  "Oh, for cryin' out loud!" was his standard response.  Ironically, while I heard him use the phrase hundreds of times I don't recall ever actually seeing my grandfather shed a tear.

I watched my father endure severe cuts and bruises, lose his job, suffer physical and financial hardships and even the deaths of close friends and family members without tearfulness.  Such a show of emotion was unacceptable to him.  I can only guess when he learned not to cry.

I am certain that neither my father nor my grandfather were born without the ability to cry.   I delivered many babies during my years in family medicine.  Each time a new baby arrived I would tell the parents, "Babies come with guarantees.  They are guaranteed to sneeze, they are guaranteed to hiccup, they are guaranteed to wet & mess their diapers, & they are guaranteed to cry – sometimes because they are hungry, sometimes because they are wet, sometimes because something is pinching or poking them, and sometimes they will just cry!"

The infants never let me down.  The guarantees held true with each new arrival.  Only as infants turned into toddlers and the toddlers became children did they learn that spontaneous crying is to be suppressed.  "You're a big boy now, and big boys don't cry," the young man is told.  "Don't be such a baby," the girl is admonished.  Slowly the tears dry up and progressively greater stimuli are needed to trigger them.  In some cases they stop forever.

Human beings are designed to cry.  I was taught the anatomy of the lacrimal glands and ducts in medical school.  Knowing the anatomy of the tear apparatus and understanding the mechanisms that cause them to flow are two very different things, however.  I don't recall every hearing a lecture on the benefits of crying, nor do I recall seeing an article in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject.  This is unfortunate, for tears play an enormously important role in maintaining our health.

Tears are triggered by incredibly diverse circumstances.  We are as likely to see people crying at weddings as at funerals.  We may weep when watching a sad movie, but we are just as likely to have tears running down our cheeks when viewing something that causes us to laugh uproariously.  Team members and their supporters tend to cry after losing a championship game, but the victors and their supporters often seen shedding tears of joy.  At times we may cry because we are experiencing pain, at other times we because we are overflowing with delight. 

Yes, we are designed to cry.  The shortest verse in the Bible is at the same time the most profound.  It reads simply, "Jesus wept."  He who was able to raise His friend Lazarus from the grave wept as he shared the grief of those He loved.  His is an example we should be willing to follow.

The shedding of tears is simultaneously an outward expression of emotional intensity and a release of passions that are too strong to be kept inside.  Through tears we demonstrate to others how we have been affected by what has transpired.  I have counseled many people who were experiencing great sorrow but who, due to a lack of any outward expression of their grief, were viewed by others as callous and uncaring.  Crying is a signal for others to share our joys and divide our sorrows.  When we fail to demonstrate our level of emotion to others we are unlikely to receive the care and support they would like to give. 

There is a greater price to be paid for keeping tears in check, however.  When we fail to cry in appropriate situations the emotions that should have evoked the tears remain trapped, like the waters of a reservoir that has no outlet.  Pent up emotions slowly drain our physical well being.  Week by week, month by month, & year by year new events add to the emotional pressure. 

We are designed to cry.  We can cry a little bit now and then or we can keep things inside until the dam bursts with an uncontrollable flood of tears and sobs or the back pressure leads to a breakdown of one or more body systems.

The next time you experience an emotional event give yourself permission to cry.  I am confident that you will feel much better once you have done so.  You will once again remember how, as a child, you could shed a few tears and quickly move on leaving the pain of the moment behind.  You will begin to realize that there are good reasons for cryin' out loud!

 

Dale Petersen MD

By Dale Peterson, MD- Building Health

Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of  Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health.  His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges.  His book Building Health by Design:  Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life was released in December 2010.

Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at www.drdalepeterson.com.

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