The Medicine of Laughter
Stressed? Suffering from anxiety? Under the weather? Try laughing.
Want to know how to get out of a bad mood, how to get rid of negative thoughts or how to snap out of depression? Try laughing more!
When we’re feeling down, or simply bored with life, what’s the first thing we often do? Turn to something that will strike our funny bone! Whether it’s silly cat videos or our favorite sitcoms, we all enjoy laughing–even babies; and they laugh at just about anything. Their laughs are contagious; too, just try watching them without laughing yourself!
A laugh a day keeps the doctor away
Perhaps the saying’s true that laughter is the best medicine. “I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, a psychologist and laugh therapist, in a WebMD article Give Your Body a Boost–with Laughter. “They might be healthier too.”
The Mayo Clinic states that “When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.” Laughter can even be like a workout. “The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar,” says Wilson. “Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate.”
The Mayo Clinic notes that laughter can:
Stimulate many organs
Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response
A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Improve your immune system
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
Increase personal satisfaction
Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
Improve your mood
Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.
Laugh away social anxiety
Improv, a form of theater in which everything is made up on the fly, is also being used as mental exercises for anxiety. Social anxiety can stem from the idea of being negatively judged, according to a psychology.com article, Can Improv Comedy Treat Social Anxiety? “The main ‘rule’ of improv is known as the ‘yes, and’ principle.” Improv for social anxiety can help as players have to first agree to the basic situation of a story. “Agreement is the ‘yes.’ Adding new dialogue, actions or objectives is the ‘and.’ Performers know that whatever they say will be accepted by other players in the scene.
That’s why improv can be so helpful for social anxiety, which often stems from a fear that the opposite will happen (rejection). Failure is so de-emphasized in improv that some intro-level improv classes even include what’s known as the ‘failure bow,’ where a student, after perceiving he/she failed in a scene, bows and yells out ‘I failed!’ as other students cheer aloud.”
Mark Pfeffer, a therapist in Chicago and the director of the Panic Anxiety Recovery Center (PARC) helped start Improv for Anxiety classes at Second City theater in Chicago, “designed to help people fight social anxiety through a combination of regular improv activities (taught by improv teachers) and cognitive behavioral therapy support groups (run by licensed therapists)” to help alter negative thinking patterns.
Take a laughter break
So, is it any wonder that comedy has always been so popular? In a world filled with life’s stresses and challenges, it’s a relief to take a break from it all. As comic actor Charlie Chaplin noted, “A day without laughter is a day wasted” and as comedian Milton Berle said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” And that’s no joke.