why community crying clubs are on the rise

Ruma Mehra, 38, was devastated after her twin brother died of Covid-19 last May. She mourned the death of her brother, but gradually found herself withdrawn into a cocoon, unable to shed tears over the tragedy.

Her worried family saw a psychiatrist who put Mehra on a two-week course of ’emotion-focused therapy’. EFT is based on the premise that emotions are the key to identity and requires the mother of two to share her feelings as much as she can with her family or write them down.

“At the beginning, it was an effort. But when I saw my family affected by my condition, I forced myself to speak up and share with them how sad I felt, reminiscing about the good times with my brother and crying whenever I couldn’t. not hold back my tears,” says Mehra. After a month, she began to feel “lighter, brighter and ready to take my life back.”

As difficult as it can be, psychologists advise that the best way to deal with sadness and grief is to accept it. If talking about your situation helps you, find empathetic people who will listen to you. If you feel like crying, go ahead.

“A lot of people associate crying during bereavement with depression, when it can actually be a sign of healing,” says clinical psychologist Sakshi Gupta. “While women find it relatively easier to express themselves through tears, boys and men are socially conditioned not to do so, even though it may reduce negative health behaviors and help them to have a fuller life.”

Crying, she says, is a valuable “safety valve” and can have beneficial effects on mental health. Doing it in a social setting can facilitate bonding and foster feelings of kinship or sisterhood. Holding back tears, on the other hand, can trigger stress and lead to a buildup of anxiety, blood pressure, and muscle tightening.

When you feel deep pain, you are also able to feel happiness with the same intensity, leading to a fuller life.

Kamlesh Masalawala, laughter therapist and founder of the Healthy Crying Club

Biologically, crying releases cortisol and creates feel-good endorphins, also known as the body’s natural painkillers. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, emotional tears also contain higher levels of stress hormones. In other words, one is literally purged of distress by crying.

Bereavement counselor Mini Makhija says she advises her patients to “never hold back the cry” whenever they feel overwhelmed. “They come back reporting more mental peace followed by a gradual return to normality after purging themselves after crying fits,” she says.

Laughter therapist Kamlesh Masalawala was so convinced of the healing power of tears that he started India’s first crying club in 2017 in Surat. One Sunday a month, men and women flock to the Healthy Crying Club for a collective and cathartic sobfest. “When laughter can be shared, why not sorrow?” Masalawala said.

When grief, misery, and pain overwhelm you, “tears naturally well up as an anxiety-stimulated response. When you feel deep pain, you are also able to feel happiness with the same intensity, leading to a fuller life,” he explains.

Healthy Crying Club founder Kamlesh Masalawala often kicks off the session by channeling and expressing his grief, so others are comfortable enough to follow his lead.  Photo: Kamlesh Masalawala

The club’s roughly 100 members say the congregation provides them with a valuable outlet for their grief as, for many adults, crying at home is not an option for fear of hurting loved ones. This often leads to an unhealthy buildup of negative feelings, triggering more stress and anxiety.

“I was very disturbed after the death of my husband last May,” shares a member of the crying club, 63, who requested anonymity. “As my two children are in Australia and couldn’t even attend his funeral due to travel restrictions, there was a lot of pent up pain and sadness which was impacting my health.

“When I come to the club and see other people grieving, I feel like I’m not alone. It’s strangely comforting and I judge myself less harshly.

Expressing sadness is not embarrassing or a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength

Mini Makhija, bereavement counselor

The concept of organizing a group activity to induce tears originated in Japan in 2013. Called rui-katsu, the first crying festival was held in Tokyo in 2017. Today, more and more Japanese people reserve for community crying sessions, with rui-katsu resonating with young and old alike. A series of books containing images of sobbing men also became popular.

A 30-year-old salesperson from Tokyo, who requested anonymity, is a regular at rui-katsu sessions, which she finds therapeutic. “Crying frees the mind and reduces stress. Whether you’ve had a hard time with your boss, your boyfriend, or dieting issues, tears can help you get back on your feet. In Japanese culture, people tend to hide their feelings rather than express them openly. So many of my friends get together for rui-katsu or “tears search” sessions to share movies, videos or [audiovisual clips]that evoke strong emotions or tears and where we can let it all out without judgment.

Historically too, tears were considered “diamonds that embodied celestial spirits”, in ancient Greek and Roman culture, and philosophers believed that tears offered emotional release and were both cleansing and purgative.

“As we age, we form walls that prevent us from expressing ourselves clearly,” says Makhija. “Children are emotionally and physically healthier than adults because they cry easily if hurt. Expressing sadness is not embarrassing or a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.”

While not everyone is looking for a therapist or a community crying club, Makhija recommends assigning a “crying corner” at home. “It could be your pantry, your patio or your garden. Find a place where you are least likely to be disturbed. Play mournful music through headphones, burn an aromatic candle and focus on your grief. Let it wash over you like a tidal wave. Tears will follow.

Other simple tricks recommended by Makhija are watching sad movies, recording your feelings in a journal, and volunteering to help the underprivileged.

Updated: January 17, 2022, 06:34

About Walter J. Leslie

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