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Sunday, December 8, 2002
Lead Article

Tears are the new prozac
Lucy Hoe

IF you need a good sob, donít bottle up your tearsóresearch shows itís the best way to beat the blues, says Lucy Hoe. Once, running on the waterworks in front of millions was considered to be a sign that the pressures of fame had caused another famous person to lose the plot (think Gazza). But today, it is positively revered in fashionable circles. Gywneth did it, the Spice Girls did it, and puffy, red eyes accompany every announcement of another celebrity coupleís break-up.

Crying has become undeniably hip, and the more people that see you do it, the better.

So popular is weeping that Tom Lutz, who has written a book about the history of crying that has taken America by storm, claims that tears are the new Prozac, and that willing up, spilling over and streaking your face with tears is the best therapy for the blues that you can get. "Crying is the first method of communication we learn," says Lutz.

"The only way a newborn baby can tell its mother that it is uncomfortable is to use its lungs and howl. Itís basically the same when we are adults. When words turn into sobs, we are reverting to that original cry for help, which simply means, I want to feel better."

 


Scientists who have studied the make-up of tears have found that there are three different types, each with a complex mix of hormones and chemicals. Basal tears are those that lubricate the eyeballs; reflex, or irritant, tears are the type produced when we chop onions. But it is the emotional, or psychic, tears that are triggered when we are sad, happy or upset that have have attracted the most attention from researchers. These are unique to humans and, chemically, they are far removed from any other fluid found in the eyes.

A study by Dr William Frey, a biochemist, was the first to identify quite how potent those emotional tears might be. Frey asked volunteers to watch a sad film and catch their tears in test tubes, then he culled the tears that they cried when they chopped onions. His results showed stark differences between the tears shed in sorrow and those caused by the fumes from food: The former contained 25 per cent more protein, including albumin, which is linked to stress.

Concentrations of manganese, a mineral thatís found in high levels in the brains of depressed people, were 30 times higher in tears than in the blood. The substance adrenocortico trophic hormone (ACTH) one of the most sensitive indicators of stress, was also present in large amounts. It seems the act of crying eliminates these compounds, and Frey found that stress levels plummeted. And according to Lutz, other studies have shown that healthy people cry more and suffer fewer gastrointestinal problems, including colitis and gastric ulcers.

Most psychologists and psychiatrists believe that crying is a good way to reduce tension, and that bottling up emotions can lead to serious health problems such as depression and heart disease. "A person who cries regularly is good at retuning to equilibrium after any emotionally trying experience," explains Lutz. Those with a tendency to feign emotion by weeping on a whim should note, however, that crocodile tear have none of these tension-busting benefits. "Fake tears are meaningless and just serve to mask other motives," says Lutz. "People who produce tears for attention are more likely to be adding to their stress levels, not relieving them."

Lutz concedes that it is still more difficult for men to display emotion than women. Statistics reveal that women cry an average of 64 times per year, and men only 17. But times are changing, insists Lutz, with men receiving more encouragement to let go of their tears in public. "What they need to accept is that theyíre doing themselves some good," he says. "Crying after occurs at times when we cannot put complex, overwhelming emotions into words. Tears can supplant articulation, which is why they offer release."

In an emotional exchange, when speech is blocked by a lump in your throat, the best way to get your point across is to sob it out. Except, says Lutz, if it happens when you are at work.

"There are certain times when weeping isnít appropriate," he admits. "If you know that your boss is likely to trigger tears, then focus your mind on something else. Think of what made you cry in the past and avoid going down that path again. Speak slowly, and if you feel a lump in your throat, breathe deeply and refocus your thoughts." At other times, however, just go with your instincts ó get out a hanky and cry, baby, cry.

(Courtesy: Sunday Times)

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