I don’t know if I have fully considered tears as a bodily fluid, but I do know that I am in a season of life that includes a lot of them.
Tears of joy, grief, love, pride, gratitude, pain, passion, frustration, or sadness. They can be brought on by a slow emotional build, or sometimes surprise me with the realization that they have suddenly welled up and rolled over.
While the reasons for tears aren’t always positive, I think we can all admit that holding them back is mind blowing-ly uncomfortable. It might involve biting your cheek, focusing on deep breathing, or even digging your nails into your hands. And everyone hates when you start to cry… and then try to abruptly stop, resulting in that awful hiccup/short breath thing that feels way worse than letting it flow.
In all honesty, opening the tear floodgates feels so damn good.
And, there is actual science to back this up. According to Harvard Health, scientists divide the liquid product of crying into three distinct categories: reflex tears, continuous tears, and emotional tears. The first two categories perform the important function of removing debris such as smoke and dust from our eyes, and lubricating our eyes to help protect them from infection.
It’s the third category, emotional tears (which flush stress hormones and other toxins out of our system), that potentially offers the most health benefits. Researchers have established that crying releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease both physical and emotional pain.
After realizing many years ago that I had become quite good at disassociating from many of my own feelings, I have been on a personal crusade to fully feel all of my emotions.
Although this has admittedly made life feel more painful at times, it has definitely been worth it. I feel more alive. I have stronger bonds with others. I have truly found ways to connect deeper to my body and mind in all ways, including during my athletic pursuits. While many high performing triathletes can disconnect from pain and suffering in order to get more out of their bodies in training and competition, I started to learn that this kind of disassociation was not good for me. It triggered default patterns of behavior that took me many steps back in learning how to feel it all. So, instead, I sought out ways to be okay being uncomfortable. To be present in each moment of a session or a race. To actually feel how hard it is, and to be okay with it. To show up wholly and fully.
To allow the tears of frustration or disappointment. Or, tears of celebration, awe, and gratitude.
This is why I became a coach specifically for amateur endurance athletes. I want to encourage others to do the same— to become more resilient through love and deep connection, rather than gritty from distraction and disassociation. I live to give hugs and high fives with mutual tears in our eyes. I allow space for my athletes to feel exactly how they need to— without shame and fear. I try to be an example of how all of this can add so much value to their whole lives.
If this is a season full of tears for you, please take some time and space to let them flow. Let the giant waves of emotions consume you in moments. Find safe people to share them with.
And if you don’t have those people—find me. I have lots of tissues.