I cry you a river

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Why is it so healthy to shed some tears when you are sad ?

Don’t misuse it, don’t waste your tears in cases when your are only disappointed about someone, ore some unrealistic expectations were not fulfilled, or you can not afford to buy the latest smartphone model.

     But when one is under severe emotional stress, shedding tears is a very appropriate measure to get rid of stress hormones such as cortison, adrenalin, metanephrin or corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH. If one experiences severe mental or psychic stress, for instance after losing a loved person, by feeling punished without reason, or after observing great injustice, these stress hormones increase in our body. Among other functions, they also act immuno-suppressive and can increase inflammatory processes (among others, at the blood vessels, in the heart and in liver and pancreas). This is perhaps the reason for an increased rate of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in people who are suffering from chronic mental stress.

     Also, we know a medically defined condition called “broken heart syndrome“, which happens significantly more frequently in man who have lost their wife. A large epidemiologic analysis by a colleague of mine (Professor K.H.Ladwig) could show that chronic depressed mood is indeed associated with higher incidence of diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular diseases. But the broken heart effect is also responsible for a higher than expected mortality of widows in the first 2 years after they lost their wives.

 

     One has to distinguish this kind of emotional stress from a currently increase of public exhibition of a pseudo-emotionality. Everywhere in the field of fame and glory, shedding tears in front of a camera became a new way to pretend that one is a very emotional/compassionate person (to get more “likes” in the social media). But in essence, this is not much more than cheep self-promotion. To get more public attention and higher paid advertising contracts, the candidates at casting shows and even football players nowadays use this simple trick. Many football players have been snapped sobbing after grand final defeats and blinking back tears of pain caused by injury. In the western culture where crying has traditionally been taboo for any bloke who didn’t want to be labelled a sook, the sporting field is emerging as one of the few places where it’s acceptable for men to have a good cry.

     I had moments when feelings of sadness or of injustice stirred me up so much that I could not held back my tears. I remember while doing my military service after high school, I had big issues with the corporals there. It was a system of psychological oppression, and punishment. When they tried to blackmail me at my future university (to push them withdrawing the scholarship that I received), I locked myself in the rest-room and probably shed half a liter of tears. This was the first time I realized how one can feel some relieve by crying.

     Some years ago I visited Yad Vashem and stood at the tree for Oskar Schindler in the alley of the Righteous Among the Nations. I have seen the movie “Schindlers List” of course, but there at Yad Vashem, among the millions of documentation of the German holocaust to the European Jews, the biggest crime against humanity one can imagine, I also felt tears rolling down my face. It was not only the recognition that Germans like me just two generations before acted worse than animals, killing their Jewish neighbors and their children, only because the psychopathic Adolf Hitler has told them to do so.

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In Yad Vashem, paying tribute to Oskar Schindler and all people in the world who show personal courage in times of state terror

But it was also the experience that none of the Israelis I met anywhere in the country, in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerussalem or Bersheeva attempted to confront me with this. I somehow felt that they had not only the right to do this, but also the duty to ask me how I would act in such a situation, or ask about my German parents and grandparents and what they did when the Jewish neighbors disappeared. But none of the Israeli people tried to interfere with our feel-good vacations in the holy land. And this feeling of being unfairly treated nicely also gave me some emotional stress, that was partly relieved there in the alley of the Righteous Among the Nations.

     The last time I had to “cry a river” was a few years ago when a girl, with whom I had a year long romance at our institute, left after finishing her masters project. I knew that this was about to come, and she never had given me much hope before that she might stay for longer. But when I carried her suit case to the airport, and we kissed a last time before the check-in and she went through the gates, I decided to better turn back to not showing her my tears. And when I drove back home in my car, I think the windscreen wipers could have been quite useful if they would be installed on the inner side of the window.

     All in all, I knew instinctively that shedding some tears is helpful to coop with emotional stress. But I have to admit, I would not doing it in public.  Even my family has perhaps never seen me crying. But they have also never seen me receiving a vaccination, or being at the dentist, or cleaning my ears. And shedding tears I consider an equal measure of health and hygiene. And it is not only hygiene for the soul, but since the above mentioned stress hormones can also be chronically damaging other organs, it is also a way of keeping us physically fit.

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