My Secret & Not-That-Strange Stress Survival Technique

 

“I can’t cry anymore.”

I confessed this to a friend during a hike one morning. We were somewhere in Griffith Park climbing in rhythm with our breaths. She is also a yogi, so she knew the significance of what I had just said. With concern between her brow, she pressed me for more details.

Generally speaking, I’m not really a big crier. Sometimes everyone around me is crying and I’m just standing there trying to figure out what to do with my face.

But I do enjoy a good cry. It’s cathartic. And it’s as necessary as a good sweat or a good laugh. (All yogis know this, hence my yogi friend’s deep concern.) It frees us of all kinds of shit that can fester if we don’t release it.

“I just can’t cry,” I told her. “Something will happen and I’ll feel like crying – like I’m sentimental or sad or frustrated – and I can feel it grow in my chest and just when it gets to here,” I pointed to the base of my throat, “it gets stuck and nothing comes out.”

This was the summer of 2013. I was planning my wedding – one of the most stressful experiences my then fiancé and I had ever dealt with together. Each time I felt like crying it was as if my body was literally stuffing sobs back down into my chest. I felt constricted and short of breath.

All the “not crying” was concerning me too. I was afraid that all the tears I hadn’t cried all summer would come thrashing their way out on my wedding day in the most hideous and public ugly-cry. I had this reoccurring vision of smeared mascara, donkey heaves, and lots and lots of snot. In a wedding dress.

No good.

So, my friend helped me devise a plan: the next time Jeremy was away for the evening I would snuggle up with a glass of wine and a good tear-jerker. I didn’t want some sappy, slow, oh-but-they-were-made-for-each-other kind of movie. I wanted tragic. I wanted fury. I wanted the ugliest cry of all.

I chose Terms of Endearment, knowing exactly what scene would do the trick. (If you have no idea what scene I’m talking about, you can see it here.) I stayed with the story and leisurely sipped my wine. When the scene came, I was more than ready. It was as if a door to my chest had flung open and claps of thunder and a steam engine and a slew of monkeys all came barreling out. It was a beautiful mess of tissue and tears that felt so, so good.

So good, that when Jeremy had a night out a few days later, I indulged in another movie-induced tear-fest. I watched In America, one of my favorite films of all time. I was on a roll. And damn, it felt amazing.

With all those tears out of the way, I could think and communicate more clearly. In yoga, I could expand wider and my breath was deeper. All that stuffing of tears was not helping me get through the tough spots. Tears are too heavy to store up inside. We have to shed them so we can keep moving forward with grace.

Research tells us that emotional tears actually contain higher amounts of stress hormones and toxins than say, the kind of tears you have when a bug flies in your eye. Tears activate your parasympathetic nervous system the same way a deep sigh or a deep stretch would. In fact, crying clubs where people gather to watch tear-jerkers and have a good cry are becoming popular in Japan. They call it rui-katsu or “tear-seeking” – inducing tears as a kind of therapy.

Three years later, I’m getting ready to pack up my tiny family and move across many states. I’m also moving away from those I love most in the world. So, yeah. I’ve got some stress. But I’m making time for all the things that keep me sane: yoga, writing, walks alone, and hikes with girlfriends.

And crying.

I’m still not a big crier. I didn’t cry when my son was born. But when that feeling growing in my chest gets to the base of my throat, I don’t stuff it down anymore. I go with it. That way I can get on with life a little more focused and a little less stressed.

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