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Tutorial on Tears

Day 72: Tears

There are three different types of tears: emotional; reflex; and basal. Thus far, humans are the only known animal (with the exception of elephants and gorillas) that shed emotional tears.

Not everyone who grieves does so via tears, yet I ache to provide a space for folks to have them when possible. The science is demonstrating that our emotional tears provide a release of stress hormones, as well as oxytocin and endorphins, offering an internal resource for soothing pain and stabilizing mood.

Emotional tears also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which I like to call the “brake” of our nervous system. Us humans were designed to spend most of our time in parasympathetic dominance, yet in times of great stress (ie, grief), our bodies (and therefore our hearts and minds) are activated often. Any chance for the “brake” to be activated is a welcome shift that allows for moments of much needed respite and restoration.

The irony of my work is that when people are allowing for their grief to evolve and move and be part of them, they are typically overcome with emotion and many times, this shows up with tears. Tears can be a sign of pure grief, as well as a signal that built up emotional suffering is moving, evolving, and changing. While tears are not the answer to everyone’s grief journey, allowing for them can be an important biological mechanism for healing.

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