Over lockdown, for a variety of reasons I have worked with so many people that are crying. The tears shed have been for lost friends and loved ones, including animals, for lost opportunities, money, relationships, jobs, from total frustration in the helplessness of the situation, for children and grandchildren not seen, in reality the list has been, and continues to be, endless. Virtually all of these people have had one thing in common, they apologised for crying, as though they had let the side down, are being weak or pathetic. It is as though we see shows of genuine emotion as bad. Well, you know what? crying is good for you. The reasons are quite simple.
Like it or not we are evolved naked apes. However unlike all other primates and mammals we have developed a more complex brain structure. The production of endorphins in the brain can lead to chemical over load that can become toxic and damaging. The easiest way to excrete these toxins is through the tear ducts. Subsequently we are the only primates that cry.
When we analyse tears we find that the chemical make up of tears for example, of anger, loss, laughter, happiness and sadness etc., all vary. Tears are not simply tears they are a specific excretion of chemicals.
Geography and tears
Evolution and geography coincide. Nearer to the equator people are much looser, freer and more emotional. The further north, away from the equator, the tighter and less emotional people become. The evolution of this is that as human beings migrated away from the plains of Africa the climate and the geography made different demands on us. Put simply in the equatorial regions food was plentiful all year around, getting fed was a relatively easy event. The further north you go the seasons kick in and the demands of nature require levels of organisation to enable survival. In short, if the barns are not full at harvest we are all dead come the winter.
Cognition versus emotion
Survival in hostile climates requires organisation and logic. There is no room for emotional out bursts that impede the production to survive. In general the further away from the equator you go the less emotional and volatile things are. It could be argued that with urbanisation and industrialisation that our dependence on the cycles of nature have diminished so that people are now allowed to be more emotional. Our grandparents and great grandparents who grew up before cars, radios, telephones, mobiles etc are often seen as being tougher than the younger generations. Perhaps we are observing their need for stoicism that enabled their survival, the make do and mend not throw it away and get something new culture.
Gender and emotion
Amazingly we still live in the world of ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’. Well actually they do. It is just that most men are still embarrassed about showing emotion. For some reason, probably to do with alpha males, survival and competition, emotion is seen as being weak. It takes a lot to make or allow most men to openly show emotion and then afterwards most will report being embarrassed.
Health and emotion
This is a big one. When we hold emotion and do not express it there is tension created in the cardio vascular system. Our veins and arteries will therefore be constricted, when we feel free to express emotion our system will then relax. Beyond diet and cholesterol, which are highly significant to health, the constriction of the vascular system due to emotional repression can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes etc. The biggest killer of people in the UK is cardio vascular problems not cancer. As soon as someone mentions cancer many people become so anxious that they can’t even name it. Yet no one seems that worried about cardio vascular issues, strange!
It is not yet completely clear but I suspect that a lot of dementia type issues are the result of or exacerbated by emotional repression and the effect that it has on the vascular system in the brain. Being more emotional and less ‘stiff upper lip’ might actually help us to live healthier for longer. The saddest thing is that alongside ‘big boys don’t cry’ runs the fact that men live about six years less than women. I suspect that if men did feel that it was okay to be emotional and to cry, they might actually live longer.
It is good to show your feelings even if it makes you feel vulnerable. It is okay to show your emotions of happiness or sadness. It is okay to cry. It is healthy to cry. It might just allow you to live a longer and happier life.