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The Health Benefits of Tears
by Dr. Judith Orloff
The Topography of Tears
by Rose-Lynn Fisher and Susan Whitmore

Adapted from her book: Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life

For over twenty years as a physician, I've witnessed, time and again, the healing power of tears. Tears are your body's release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Also, you can have tears of joy, say when a child is born, or tears of relief when a difficulty has passed. In my own life, I am grateful when I can cry. It feels cleansing, a way to purge pent-up emotions so they don't lodge in my body as stress symptoms, such as fatigue or pain. To stay healthy and release stress, I encourage my patients to cry. For both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.

In "Emotional Freedom," I discuss the numerous health benefits of tears. Like the ocean, tears are salt water. Protectively, tears lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes.

Our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each kind has different healing roles. For instance, reflex tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when they're irritated by smoke or exhaust. The second kind, continuous tears, are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated--these contain a chemical called "lysozyme" which functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection. Tears also travel to the nose through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Typically, after crying, our breathing and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.


Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and "tear expert" Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears contain stress hormones excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body's natural pain killer and "feel-good" hormones. Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it's possible that elephants and gorillas do, too. Other mammals and also salt-water crocodiles produce reflex tears which are protective and lubricating.

Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem may persist. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart. You don't want to hold tears back. Patients sometimes say, "Please excuse me for crying. I was trying hard not to. It makes me feel weak." My heart goes out to them when I hear this. I know where that sentiment comes from: parents who were uncomfortable around tears, or a society that tells us we're weak for crying--in particular that "powerful men don't cry." I reject these notions. The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self-awareness to cry. These are the people who impress me, not those who put up a macho front of faux bravado.

Try to let go of outmoded, untrue conceptions about crying. It is good to cry. It is healthy to cry. Crying helps to emotionally clear sadness and stress. It is also essential to resolve grief when waves of tears periodically come over us after we experience a loss. Tears help us process the loss so we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for depression if we suppress these potent feelings. When a friend apologized for curling up in the fetal position on my floor, weeping, depressed over a failing romance, I told her, "Your tears blessed my floor. There is nothing to apologize for."

I've been enthusiastic about crying for years. In fact, during my psychiatric residency at UCLA when supervisors and I watched videos of me with patients, they would point out that I'd smile when a patient cried. "That's inappropriate," they'd say. I disagreed then; I still do. I wasn't smiling because my patients were depressed or grieving. I was smiling because they were courageously healing depression or other difficult emotions with tears. I was happy for their breakthrough. In my life, I love to cry. I cry whenever I can. I wish I could more. Thank God our bodies have this capacity. I hope you too can appreciate the experience. Let your tears flow to purify stress and negativity.

Judith Orloff, MD, is the New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, upon which this article is based. In her Santa Monica private practice, Dr. Orloff specializes in treating highly sensitive people. Dr. Orloff's work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She provides workshops. Visit her website for more information at

griefHaven thanks Dr. Orloff for her generosity
in sharing her wisdom and research with us,
as well as the important work she does
with the Highly Sensitive Person.

The Topography of Tears

An extraordinary photographic study, with quotes by Rose-Lynn Fisher and Susan Whitmore

See the phenomenal photos and explanation of microscopic tears below.

"I suddenly wondered ... Are tears of sorrow
different than tears of happiness?"

Tears shed on the death of a dear friend who died quite suddenly,
unexpectedly; it was shocking--an aberration.

“The Topography of Tears is a study of tears photographed through an optical microscope that I began in 2008, in a period of grief and personal change."

"Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness."

Tears shed on the passing of an important friend: He was someone Rose-Lynn had lost contact with for many years, but they were eventually able to reconnect, and she was able to thank him for being a deep part of her life. Their friendship was renewed as though no time had passed and continued on. When she heard that he had died, she felt grief over losing him, but also profound gratitude for having found him again and for having that which does not end with death.

Meet Rose-Lynn Fisher

"Even within one teardrop there is variation from one tiny region to another."

"Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited.
Shedding tears, shedding old skin. It's as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean."

Tears shed by Rose-Lynn in the midst of overhauling her life, needing to make many changes but not knowing where to begin. Then there was a moment, a glimmer of what was possible--hope for a better future. She began to cry these actual tears.

Rose-Lynn's email to Susan Whitmore:

Dear Susan,

Timeless reunion and Brevity of time (out of order) losing you are both tears of grief, although Timeless reunion was a co-mingling of grief and gratitude. Possibility/hope is just that. Most of the tears in my study are my own, along with tears from other people. No matter what, they are a variety of tears shed in a moment of intense feeling, some sad, some happy, some laughing, etc. They do look very different from each other, but it's important to remember that my work is not a controlled scientific study; and there are many variables that influence their appearance. These tears are not representative of all other tears that come from the same emotion; they are not diagnostic, working your way back to the emotion .... they are more like momentary landscapes of a realm of emotion visited and experienced.

My best,

Book Info:
Her Website:

Rose-Lynn Fisher is an L.A. artist working in photography and mixed media. Her art explores a sense of place along the micro/macro continuum in series that include microscopic and aerial photography. She is the author of the photography book, BEE, highly magnified views of the honeybee. Her work has been widely featured online and in print, including Smithsonian Magazine, The New Yorker, Wired, and Harper's (among many others), exhibited in museums of art, science, natural history, and anthropology in the United States and abroad (including Palais de Tokyo in Paris and Boston Museum of Science), and is represented by Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica.

Article written for monthly newsletter July 2017. To read other past newsletters, visit Please feel free to share this with those in need.

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