Laugh and Cry Your Way to Good Health
By Xi Ti & Guang Xiao
As adults, how many of us freely express ourselves through crying?
Many of us hold back our tears, believing that crying is an embarrassing act.
But is it? What about the health benefits of shedding tears?
Let It All Out
In one of her books, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, American psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff writes about the numerous health benefits of tears. Her findings are corroborated by American biochemist Dr. William H. Frey, who found an important chemical difference between reflex tears and emotional tears.
Reflex tears are caused by physical irritants. For example, they happen when a person chops onions. Reflex tears are comprised mainly of water. In contrast, several chemicals are present in emotional tears, which contain a higher protein concentration as well as the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, an endorphin that reduces pain and works to improve mood. Stress-induced tears help the body discharge chemicals that raise cortisol, the stress hormone. This is one reason why we feel much better after a good cry.
The next time you sense the need to cry, be it due to stress or hurt feelings, don’t hold back. Let it all out to provide yourself the much-needed relief.
A Smile and a Good Laugh
We know smiling and laughing rejuvenate the hormones in the body and boost immunity. Yet many people are unaware that even “fake” smiles provide benefits both psychologically and physiologically.
A study by Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and cofounder of the Facial Action Coding System, established that voluntary and involuntary smiles create similar regional brain-activity patterns. His findings suggest that even deliberate smiling can generate a health-promoting boost to the brain.
Smiling is contagious. Dr. Marco Lacoboni, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Brain Research Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that when social signals such as smiling are communicated to us, mirror neurons in our brains are activated, causing us to smile too.
So what is the science behind the healing power of smiling and laughing? According to Stanford University professor Dr. William F. Fry, one of the founders of gelotology (the science of laughter), laughing intensifies the activity of specific immune-system cells responsible for the destruction of infectious pathogens.
Immunologist Dr. Lee S. Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University in California, concluded that laughter helps to optimize the hormones in the endocrine system and decreases the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, leading to stress reduction. Laughter was found to increase production of antibodies and natural killer cells, improving the immune system.
Humor sees the cracks in everything, finding laughter in the flaws. But when the cracks are too big to laugh about, crying helps the body and mind cope, release stress, and reset themselves. Crying is a natural cleansing process, and allowing this emotional letting go to take place is essential to processing feelings, developing strength, opening the way to joy, and experiencing the full richness of life. After you have a good cry, make the choice to take a deep breath and smile or laugh. Your body and mind will thank you.