Laughter Is Good Medicine
When we’re having a stressful day, it hardly seems like the time to stop and have a good laugh, but that might be just the time. Laughing actually benefits us in many ways. Laughter is a good form of stress relief and beneficial for the body. A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but data is increasing about the positive benefits of laughter.
Several years ago, Dr. Norman Cousins wrote Anatomy of An Illness. When he was faced with combating a life-threatening illness, Dr. Cousins worked with his doctor in developing a plan to combat his illness using among other things--laughter. He used humor to boost the body’s capacity for healing. Among the techniques he used to help him feel better was watching a variety of comedies (movies and TV shows). Dr. Cousins said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain free sleep.
A growing number of hospitals and treatment centers are using “Humor Therapy.” Humor therapy uses the power of smiles and laughter to aid healing. It helps you find ways to make yourself (or others) smile and laugh more. When you think of humor therapy, picture Micky Mouse or Goofy in the children's ward of a hospital cheering up sick children. Some hospitals have humor carts that provide funny materials for patients of all ages.
Scientists have also been researching the relationship between the mind and the body, especially in connection with the body's ability to heal (psychoneuroimmunology). Laughter appears to change brain chemistry and may boost the immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can impact the body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. However, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
Humor may allow a person to feel in control of a situation and make it seem more manageable, even pain. 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.
Laughter allows people to release fears, anger, stress and tension--all of which can certainly harm the body over time. Laughter can stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally but also causes specific physical changes in your body. The next time you have a good hardy laugh, remember that laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air; stimulates your heart, lungs & muscles; and, increases the endorphins that are released by the brain.
To increase or develop your “laugh quotient” (frequency of laughing), try some of these ideas:
Find a comic strip, poster or photo that makes you laugh and hang it up at home or in your office.
Have some comedies at home (DVD’s of favorite movies or comedians) to watch after a stressful day.
Spend time with friends who make you laugh. You can share funny stories or events that gave everyone a good laugh.
Go the store and go through the greeting cards to find one that makes you smile and/or laugh. Take it home and post on your bulletin board or refrigerator.
Practice laughing. It may seem strange at first, but you don’t have to give a big belly laugh. Smile and then give a little laugh. Even if it feels forced at first, keep on practicing. It’s good for your body.
Laughter is good medicine. Both the short term and long term benefits can help us and our bodies better deal with stress and illness. The research is ongoing, but very positive regarding the benefits of humor therapy. Remember that it does take fewer muscles to smile than to frown. So, smile and laugh more for both your face and better health.