By: Karen Bergen B.A. (Hons); RMT; CAT; M.Ed. & Author of “Overcoming SAD: The Happy Hippie Yoga Chick's Guide to Beating Winter Flip-Out”
Where would we be without laughter?
Laughter is the old port in the storm of life that if lucky, sees many of us through many turbulent times, and can be found anywhere if we just lighten up.
Already by the fourteenth century, laughter was recognized by the medical community. Dr. Henri de Mondeville who lived 1260 to 1320 wrote, "Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient's life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him, and by having someone tell him jokes."
P. Wooton, a nurse since 1969, discovered she could cope better with the stresses of critical care, hospice, and home health nursing by using her sense of humour. She wrote, “Humour and laughter can be effective self-care tools to cope with stress. An ability to find humour gives us a sense of perspective on our problems. Laughter provides a physical release for accumulated tension.” Nurse Wooton found that humour has long-term effects that strengthen the effectiveness of the immune system. “Humour therapy can help relieve stress associated with disease and illness. It serves as a diversionary tactic, a therapeutic tool for disorders such as depression, and a coping mechanism. It also is a natural healing component for care givers trying to cope with the stress and personal demands of their occupations.”
Norman Cousins in 1979 wrote a book 'Anatomy of an Illness.' In it he explained how he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. The disease usually results in acute inflammation of the spine and can affect other areas of the body as well. Mr. Cousins' case was so severe that he was given a one in five hundred chance of recovery and a few months to live. Realizing that negative thoughts and attitudes can result in illness, he reasoned that positive thoughts and attitudes may have the opposite effect. So he left the hospital and checked into a hotel where he took mega doses of vitamin C and watched humorous movies and shows, including 'Candid Camera' and the Marx Brothers. He found that ten minutes of boisterous laughter resulted in at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He continued his routine until he recovered. Thus, he proved that laughter is the best medicine, and pointed the way to mind-body medicine.
William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School reports the average kindergarten student laughs 300 times a day. Yet, adults average just 17 laughs a day. Why the difference? Are we too uptight, too tense? Do we take life too seriously? Isn't it time we learned how to relax? We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing. So, if we want to fly like the angels and share in their happiness, we'll have to follow their example and take ourselves lightly.
Humour isn't about merely telling jokes; it's the way we view the world. We can be sincere about life without taking it so seriously. We can laugh about our mistakes and pain. Louis Kronenberger explains: "Humour simultaneously wounds and heals, indicts and pardons, diminishes and enlarges; it constitutes inner growth at the expense of outer gain, and those who posses and honestly practice it make themselves more through a willingness to make themselves less."
Here are some of the ways laughter can help you:
- Laughter may strengthen the immune system by activating cells that attack viruses.
- Laughing may lower blood pressure for some by inducing relaxation and preventing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.
- Some describe laughter as “internal jogging” as you inhale oxygen which stimulates heart and blood circulation.
- Laughter can trigger the release of endorphins which give you a sense of well being. These endorphins are also natural painkillers.
- Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety because it naturally relaxes you.
- Laughter induces your heart rate to slow down and your blood pressure to decrease.
- Some experts say that laughter increases our creativity as it encourages a new perspective to look at things.
- Laughing with others may be the best way to reap the benefits of laughter as it improves our mood through social connection and an increased feeling of belonging.
- Laughing with friends can decrease feelings of alienation and lowers our risk for depression.
- Laughter causes our body to release a bath of serotonin and other "feel good" chemicals into the blood stream and opens us up to experiencing a situation differently. It reduces at least four of the neuroendocrine hormones associated with the stress response: epinephrine, cortisol, dopamine, and growth hormone.”
So read a joke book, watch a funny movie, or make your sweetie smile. You’ll be better for it.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.