A few days ago our son told me about a disturbing conflict at English Bay. A stranger accosted him, shouting homophobic and racial slurs, spraying spittle at him. Brandon called 9-1-1. Then he behaved as his higher self; he didn’t take the man’s aggression personally, realizing he was acting from a place of pain. Brandon pursued him only so far and then watched him disappear before three female officers, on the phone all the while, arrived at the scene. They asked Brandon for a description: “white, male, early 40s. Coulda been high on crack.” About his attire: “I can’t really remember. Likely shades of grey. No happy colours, that’s for sure!” The officers commended him on controlling his adrenalin rush, the fight-or-flight response. “Yeah. I didn’t fight and he flew.” Eventually, rather than continuing to choke back his tears, Brandon let them flow.
Crying stimulates parasympathetic nerve activity. It helps our body calm down after a stressful or emotional ordeal by regulating body temperature and blood pressure. Crying also flushes out excess stress hormones, releases feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins, and boosts our mood. Brandon affirmed he felt better after his tears flowed.
But do many of us (especially men) remember how to cry? Or do we need to relearn to use our tear ducts? (Fun fact: it requires more physical effort to suppress feelings than to acknowledge them.) “Shedding tears is an invigorating and healthy physiological release,” writes Thelma Fayle in The Globe and Mail. “Crying is not just for the dying and their families; it is also a healthful expression for the living.”
Nothing to cry about? Use the following strategies to trigger tears:
- Watch sad movies: my go-to tearjerkers include Brokeback Mountain, Charly, Dead Poets Society, Lion, Ordinary People, Remember the Titans, Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas — plus three versions of A Star is Born but not Titanic.
- Listen to sentimental songs (the artist matters, as does our association with a song): A Change is Gonna Come, Always On My Mind, As Time Goes By, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Dance With My Father Again, Fields of Gold, I’ll Be Seeing You, Misty, Moon River, Sand and Water, This Bitter Earth, What a Wonderful World, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Yesterday, and more.
- Read emotionally stimulating books: A Fine Balance, Anna Karenina, Benediction, Crow Lake, Homegoing, The Kite Runner, Love You Forever, Portrait of a Lady, Swing Low and All My Puny Sorrows, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and more.
In thinking about crying, I came across a surprising claim from Hidefumi Yoshida, a Japanese “Tears Teacher”: “The act of crying is more effective than laughing or sleeping in reducing stress. If you cry once a week, you can live a stress-free life.”
In the past when I felt stress or anxiety, I’d undergo my own affordable therapy: relax in a hot bath and let my tears flow. Little did I know that not only is crying beneficial but, according to German scientists, “taking a hot bath can be more effective than exercise at beating depression.” A stretch? Probably, but a simple combination to try nonetheless.
Crying — in essence — makes us human. I am persuaded that ‘turning on the tap’ regularly contributes to our general well-being. How ’bout you? •
P.S. In the comments below, please add your views about crying and suggestions of movies, songs/music and books to make our tears flow.