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There’s good news for those with overactive lachrymal glands. A Japanese academic claims that the act of crying is more effective than laughing or sleeping to reduce stress. He describes himself as a “tears teacher, holds workshops and delivers lectures across Japan to educate people on the benefits of crying.

Other studies conducted in various parts of the world claim that crying releases endorphins, thereby promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.

In my humble opinion, there are two kinds of people. Those that can produce tears at the drop of a hat and, at the other end of the spectrum, some who are the epitome of stoicism. The latter variety cannot be moved to tears however sad their experience.

By and large the first category outnumbers the second. Women are not afraid to show their emotions and the tears can flow if they are moved, hurt or angry.

Of course most men see this as a weapon to make them capitulate to what they deem unreasonable demands. But what they do not realise is that the act of crying releases pent-up feelings and, in the words of the author Paul Coelho, “tears are words waiting to be written”. Men have been conditioned to hold back their tears with phrases such as “big boys don’t cry” or “don’t be such a sissy”.

So, manliness is associated with holding back on expressing emotions. Perhaps that is why they are so often baffled by the tears of a woman who seem to be able to turn it off or on at will.

Sometimes when you lose a loved one, you feel frozen and seem incapable of tears. It is important to grieve, as tears can act as a cleanser. I remember a beloved sister unable to take in the fact that her husband had died prematurely and her talking about it as if it had happened to someone else.

When the tears did come, months later, they were cathartic. The loss was still devastating but she had begun to accept and acknowledge it.

A lot of research has been done on tears and studies indicate that they help relieve stress by ridding the body of potentially harmful stress-induced chemicals. One interesting find is that emotionally induced tears have a higher protein content than those produced in response to eye irritation. One new report suggests that people with stress-induced illnesses cry less than their healthy counterparts and they were more likely to regard crying as a sign of weakness or loss of control.

Extreme reaction

Speaking for myself, when I see someone I care about crying, it upsets me and I try and do what I can to console the person — even if I don’t think the situation warrants such an extreme reaction.

In my family, it was my father who cried easily. Watching sad films made the tears flow freely and he never tried to hide his emotions. Maybe that’s why he was very calm and relaxed by nature. However, his grandchildren found his reaction to sad scenes in TV serials or films hugely entertaining and, as soon as the dam burst, they would gather around him and ask why he was crying. Their attention was gratifying and he would start narrating the story to them, missing the rest of the show in the process. They listened to the heart-rending tale with rapt attention simply because he was a very good storyteller. They had grown up hearing stories from the great Indian epics, held spellbound by his emotional rendition.

So, the secret to a stress-free life is not to hold back on those tears. They are like balm to the soul.

— Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.