Have you ever heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”? According to research, laughing helps relieve stress — and that’s no joke! Think about it, you can’t be both laughing and stressed at the same time. In addition to relieving stress, laughter is also good for your mood, mental health, heart health, pain relief and more, according to an article from the Mayo Clinic Staff (www.mayoclinic.org, “Stress Relief From Laughter,” July 29, 2021).
When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. A good laugh has great short- and long-term effects:
- 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 it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
- Improve your immune system. Positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
- Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
- 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 stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.
“Just a moment of laughter can allow us to think more clearly and creatively and strengthen a sense of connection with others,” said Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School (source: www.everydayhealth.com, “How to Laugh More Every Single Day,” March 29, 2023).
“Laughter is the physical manifestation of finding something funny, and it can help to reduce inflammation and stress hormones, improve circulation and enhance the immune system,” said Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board member Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., founder of Synergy Brain Fitness.
The Everyday Health article lists six tips for bringing more laughter, giggles and chuckles into your everyday life:
- Don’t worry about being “funny” says comedian Paul Osincup “Humor is not a talent, it’s a habit. Instead, get in the habit of seeing the humor in everyday situations. … A good place to start: Laugh, laugh, laugh. … The more you play with humor, you’ll get better and better at it.”
- Curate Your Comedy Collection. Surround yourself with more humorous content, e.g., movies, social media, etc. Stop “Doom-scrolling,” i.e., consuming endless negative news. Instead, you can also use the website and app Podchaser, where you can personalize your feed to watch for when your favorite funny people are guests on podcasts or release a new episode.
- Take a Laugh Break. Set an alarm on your phone for a “fun break, bolster productivity,” Osincup says. Start off with five minutes, he recommends. Watch something funny, and then set a second alarm that cues you to go back to work.
- Try the ‘3 Funny Things’ Exercise. You’ve heard of the power of a gratitude journal, in which you write down three (or more) good things that happened that day. A humor journal might be just as impactful. Osincup points to a study that found that people who, at the end of the day, reflected and wrote down three amusing things that happened in the day for one week decreased depression symptoms and increased overall happiness for up to six months.
- Tap Laughter to Learn More. “Laughter is a language we all recognize, and we feel connected when we smile and laugh,” says Michigan State University professor Stephen E. DiCarlo, PhD. Humor can foster learning by building an emotional connection that strengthens memory and therefore can help you understand and retain information.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Lighten Up. When something happens that’s mildly stressful and you react by being short with someone or stressed out, reflect on how you could have handled that with more humor or lightheartedness.
In conclusion, do you hold back your laughter because you think it looks dumb? Many people do. Once you start suppressing laughs, it becomes automatic, and you don’t know you’re doing it. The good news is that you can rewire this habit, but it takes time and effort.
Start by noticing other people’s laughs, and think positively about them. If you notice that you’re being critical of other people’s laughs, make a conscious effort to find the joy and freedom they’re expressing. Once you can be positive about the laughs of others, your mirror neurons will help you be positive about your own laughter. It takes a lot of repetition to rewire a deep bodily impulse, so don’t give up.
Finally, if laughing is challenging for you or you’re struggling with a more severe mood disorder or mental illness, it’s best to seek professional help from a therapist or your doctor. If not, go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile, and then give a laugh. Even if it feels a little forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.