Recently, work stress got too much for someone I know and they broke down in tears but instead of blurting out everything they were upset about, through their tears they were saying things like “don’t tell anyone”, “don’t let anyone see me” and “I was in the army, this isn’t like me”.
I found it very sad that instead of letting herself express her emotion naturally, as she needed to, she was desperate to cover it up and pretend it wasn’t happening. As it turned out – someone did see and to cut a long story short, the biggest stressor was removed and issue was resolved. I’m not saying that crying was the only way to solve the problem, it would have been better if her rational requests for more support and time had been heard but since they hadn’t, if she’d hidden her tears at home or in the toilet (as so many are), she would still be in the same ridiculously stressful situation with unrealistic expectations being placed upon her.
When working as a doctor I would frequently feel overwhelmed and would have to dash to the toilet to compose myself. I would take a few deep breaths and prepare myself to face the patients again – this was a holding pattern – nothing was being resolved. I hid it for as long as I could but one time when I broke down in front of a colleague, it was such a relief when she insisted I talk to her about how stressed I felt. She couldn’t solve my problems, I was ill and needed professional support, but it was really helpful knowing she was knew what I was going through and she was there for me when I needed her.
No one should have to resort to crying at work to resolve a stressful situation but just as laughter is a way to express joy, happiness, confusion or embarrassment, tears are a way of expressing sadness and pain.
When I feel especially passionate about something, often, I will get chocked up. I get frustrated, feeling concerned that my tears my detract from my words. But in truth, it’ll be the fact that I’m stopping myself from tearing that will detract from my words. If I let myself express my passion using my words and my tears, perhaps the power of my passion would be communicated.
As well as emotions, we also tear up in response to compassion, morality, sympathy and physical pain – these are automatic responses. Our eyes also tear in response to irritants such as smoke, pollen or onions, this is to protect the eye.
I’d not do this subject justice if I didn’t comment on the male:female divide – females cry 3-4 times more often than males. In the story I relayed above, why was it relavent that she’d been in the army? My question is rhetorical, I know exactly what she meant. My point is, why is it considered “strong and manly” to be able to not cry? As I explained in this post about men expressing their emotions, it’s human to express emotions. It’s unhelpful and unhealthy to keep emotions locked away.
I think we’ve got a long way to go but I’m just trying to say we should not be afraid of tears. As a side note, physically, tears are healthy for our eyes, they keep them lubricated, protected from irritants and have antimicrobial properties. Tears contain stress hormones and some studies have shown that this can be a helpful way for them to leave the body.
I’m not saying “go on everyone, have a good cry”. The support we receive when we cry is important. A good cry can feel cathartic but if we cry and don’t receive support, we can be left feeling shame. Perhaps we all just need to have a little more understanding and acceptance of crying, it is just a natural way to express an emotion.