Understanding this, she believes, is especially important as we pass the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and mourn the loss of more than 543,000 people in the U.S. due to the disease.
“Crying can be viewed as a sign of weakness to some people, or it can cause embarrassment and fear,” Mendias says. “The past year has created life-altering events that provoke emotions many of us have never experienced. Because those emotions run deep, there is no reason for feelings of weakness, embarrassment or fear.”
Mendias, manager of administrative resources and retail services at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, has shared her message of embracing tears for better physical and emotional health with more than 1 million viewers of her online TED talk, as well as in classes with hundreds of expectant parents throughout her 30 years as a certified childbirth and lactation educator.
She believes that crying offers the opportunity to promote intimacy between two people and improve physical and mental well-being. It is, she says, a natural function of our amazing bodies, during which endorphins — known as our feel-good hormones — are released. And it should be embraced, rather than feared.
“Having a healthy relationship with tears allows us to process emotions and let them physically leave our bodies,” she says. “Keeping emotions inside can amplify the negativity, when we really need to embrace them and set them free.”
Embrace all kinds of tears — sad tears, happy tears, even I-don’t-know-why tears
Mendias also recognizes the role crying plays in relation to positive emotions and experiences, such as the birth of a baby or reuniting with loved ones after a long separation. Much like the need to cry when something sad or painful occurs, tears of happiness, joy or relief tell us we are feeling the emotions to a level that really touches our core. The event conjures up so many feelings that ultimately, our bodies can’t contain the emotions, which need a way to exit — through our tears.
“Sometimes we don’t even know why we are crying,” she says. “But our bodies know that we need to release and process strong emotions.”
And when Mendias says “we,” she means both women and men. She wants boys and men to know there is no difference in their need to cry — whether in reaction to positive or negative emotions — and to recognize the benefits crying can offer. However, men have been told for generations that “boys don’t cry.”
“Crying needs to be promoted as a human response, just like breathing,” Mendias says. “Unfortunately, men have been shamed for crying and taught they can’t cry. However, if boys and men aren’t encouraged to cry or are taught to feel shame when they cry, their fear, frustration and anger can amplify.”
Understand it, allow it and move past it
People, Mendias says, can avoid the shame, embarrassment or discomfort surrounding crying by understanding why it happens, allowing it to happen and moving past it. Rather than feeling shame, people should feel proud because they are giving themselves a very personal gift of health and positivity when they cry.
What’s more, according to Mendias, being willing to cry in front of a loved one or supporting the tears of another can also help improve relationships. It can increase connection, intimacy, trust, acceptance and respect — characteristics all healthy relationships must have. “Feeling something to your core and being open to sharing it — or receiving it — is a very intimate act,” she says.
When a loved one cries, Mendias says it’s important to know how — and how not — to react. She offers the following tips:
- Work through the impulse to flee or try to “fix” whatever has made them cry.
- Never shame someone for their tears.
- Don’t insist on knowing what is wrong — they may not be able or want to share.
- Don’t ignore or dismiss their tears, or try to downplay their need to cry.
- Just be there for them, sit with them, hold their hand — let them know they are not alone, and allow them to process their emotions in their own way.
“Crying is an amazing physical miracle — an exceptional bodily function that allows us to bring our bodies back into emotional and physical balance, and helps us share our most intense, intimate emotions with others,” Mendias says. “This essential physical response promotes positive outcomes and enhances relationships, so there is never a need to be ashamed of or embarrassed by this powerful human gift.”