Stress Management’s Secret Weapon: Laughter
by Laura Pentoney, M.A., LPC
We’ve heard it said before that “laughter is the best medicine.” While we can arguably come up with situations in which heading to the doctor or the nearest pharmacy for something other than a good laugh might be optimal, it still remains that the benefits of laughter are well documented. But, other than the pleasurable and joyful feeling, what is it about laughter? What does it do for our minds, our hearts and our bodies? How do we cultivate laughter in our lives?
These days, in light of the stresses of everyday life, the ability to laugh easily and frequently can bring healing power and assist in supporting the health of our overall physical, mental, and emotional well being.
Laughter lowers stress by reducing the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormones. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. In our lives, we benefit through fewer physical effects of stress.
Clinical research has indicated that laughter boosts the immune system by enhancing the body’s level of T cells, which attack cells infected by viruses. Humor has been shown to increase the number of antibody-producing cells as well. According to the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, laughter boosts the body’s production of “killer” white blood cells that attack infectious agents in the body.
Laughter also helps us cope from day to day. It can help us by lending perspective on a daily basis. It’s a powerful emotional release that enables us to continue to function in stressful situations. Shared laughter can provide us with a strong sense of social connection to others.
The opportunity to cultivate and harness the ability to laugh enables us to bring powerful medicine into our lives. Fortunately, there are many ways to create and enhance laughter:
- Learn to laugh at yourself. Developing the ability to take oneself less seriously leads to increased laughter as we begin to shift our perspective and find the humor in those embarrassing moments and blunders that happen to all of us. Find friends that are already comfortable in this area, and you’ll notice yourself beginning to cultivate your own playfulness.
- Surround yourself with laughter reminders. Find funny artwork or toys that you can put on your desk or in your home. Pause to savor those funny emails that friends send to you. Buy a book of jokes and keep it on your coffee table. Share all of these with friends.
- Develop perspective. Many things in life are beyond our control, especially the behavior of other people. Come to an understanding about when taking on the weight of the world might be an unrealistic and unhealthy approach.
- Learn to cope with and minimize stress. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter. Engage the expertise and help of a mental health professional if stress becomes overwhelming and difficult to manage. Some stress that presents in our daily life is actually unresolved pain from the past.
- Observe children at play. They are well-versed in the art of play and laughter.
- Go to a Laughter Yoga class. According to Yoga Laughter International, the official website of Laughter Yoga founder Dr. Madan Kataria, there are now over 6000 social laughter clubs in about 60 countries. Yoga Laughter’s benefits lie in the fact that our bodies cannot distinguish between self-induced and real laughter.
Through the use of Unconditional Laughter combined with Yogic Breathing, laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group.
Watch funny movies, television shows or go to a comedy club. Build up your library of funny videos or go to a comedy club for the shared experience of laughter.
Cultivate the ability to tell jokes or funny stories. Here the benefit is twofold. You get to enjoy the joke on your own, and you will benefit from the shared laughter and social connection.
As you begin to integrate laughter, humor and play into your daily life, you will begin to notice increased joyfulness, relaxation, and creativity. Laughter brings powerful medicine to mind, body and spirit.
Laura J. Pentoney, M.A., LPC, is a licensed professional counselor who is passionate about helping people heal from wounds of the past in order to live fuller, richer lives in the present. Laura works with individuals who are struggling with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and/or eating disorders.