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Power Crying

Have you had a really good cry lately? For me, the answer would be yes, but then I tear up at airports just watching people de-plane — particularly if they greet one another with lots of hugging and back-patting.

My children regularly remind me that throughout their growing-up years, I cried at least once while watching most family movies and occasionally during televised public service announcements — especially anything involving abandoned puppies or orphaned children.

But today I'm focused on a different kind of weeping — those sad tears that come from anticipating, or being smack dab in the middle of, a difficult and painful situation — those times you're feeling lost, fearful and bereft. Those tears are actually referred to by some researchers as "sad tears." They might involve mourning, recently experienced or anticipated.

Sad or "emotional" tears are different than normal tears, according to neurologist Elizabeth Reid. And this is just one item of information on a worth-looking-at website called Silver Planet (www.silverplanet.com). Dr. Reid believes "emotional tears contain much more protein and "just as kidneys cleanse our blood, so our tears cleanse us of certain emotion-related waste products."

Interesting observation, don't you think? It's one of those little items you come across in a random, Web-based query that you cannot stop thinking about. At least, I can't.

One featured article that includes even greater amounts of potentially useful information is "Stress and Your Health: 10 Q & A's with Experts." In a short but information-packed summary, six medical experts weigh in on everything from the role of color in de-stressing — "bright colors, especially red, are energizing and warm, whereas blues and greens are seen as more relaxing and calming" — to the importance of pets. Experts are not really needed on that one — if you have a dog or cat you already know "pets boost optimism, decrease loneliness and lower stress hormones."

The University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center offers additional recommendations about managing sadness and stress. I don't want to be cavalier about any of this; it's just too important. But these might be things to consider — after you've had a cleansing cry.

Stress- and anxiety-reduction 101: There is, of course, the always-offered "deep breathing," which is usually thought of as a slow intake of air through your nose, taking a little longer on the outtake through your mouth; it increases oxygen consumption and "decreases stress hormones in your blood." The same experts that recommend better breathing encourage "writing about what bothers you." It's sometimes called "journaling therapy" and has quite remarkable impacts (another column, another day).

However, my personal favorite is "guided imagery," in which a meditative voice directs you toward comforting thoughts and mentally calming visions. It's a way of using your imagination to "travel to a pleasant place and time." The guided-imagery approach I like best is called "A walk in the country." You will experience it as part of one of the locally available "Living Well" classes (call 541-864-9611 to register) or you can purchase your own tape or CD from Bull Publishing by calling 1-800-676-2855.

As you consider your many options for emotional cleansing, remember that reducing stress and anxiety often starts with a good cry (and now you know why they call it that).

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.