dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Humor Heals: Science proves Laughter is good medicine

I need a daily dose of laughter. Even on a pleasant, easy-going day, I have to get that diversion and release of tension. On a bad day I have an even greater need for it. Whether it’s watching a few funny YouTube videos, taking a quick peek at some LOL Cats at I Can Has Cheezburger, giggling at the ridiculous mistakes found by CakeWrecks.com, enjoying the eye-popping errors at the website  Damn You Autocorrect, or watching a bit of comedy on television...  I’ve gotta have humor in my day! It is such a fantastic stress reliever for me; it’s free, fun, and totally infectious! Sharing something funny with my husband is the best. When he really gets going, he has a laugh like a cartoon character and hearing him in full guffaw is enough to goad me into laughing to the point of tears. 

Laughter feels good and I consider it to be important to my well-being... but could laughing really be considered medicine? Medical science is finding proof that it is.

“If taking vitamins doesn't keep you healthy enough, try more laughter: 
The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed."
~ Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort

Humor as healing isn’t a new concept. Recently I reread the classic book, “Anatomy of an Illness” by Norman Cousins. In his battle against the debilitating illness Ankylosing Spondylitis, he chose not to leave all the treatment to his doctors but to take a portion of responsibility to aid himself. He theorized that if studies showed negative emotions can cause negative chemical changes in the body, then positive attitude must be a healing factor. As a method of controlling pain, Cousins watched Candid Camera and Marx Brothers films, read humorous books, and found other ways to induce laugher. Said Cousins, “It worked. I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” Eventually Cousins recovered and he attributed part of his recovery to humor and laughter.

But since then, even more is being discovered. I’ve been finding articles and studies for months which have uncovered specific benefits for patients, including:

~A British study found 15 minutes of laughter increased pain tolerance around 10% as the action helps to trigger the release of endorphins, the body's naturally produced pain killers. (read more)

~Watching a funny movie or sitcom that produces laughter has a positive effect on vascular function and is opposite to that observed after watching a movie which causes mental stress, according to research from University of Maryland School of Medicine. (read more)

~When people laugh their major blood vessels dilate, allowing for easier blood flow. This increases your blood circulation and helps your heart pump more evenly.  (read more)

~MRI scans show that humor activates parts of the brain linked to resilience and well-being in children. (read more)

~Laughter increases your deep breathing, which relaxes your muscles, gives you more energy, and lowers your stress. (read more)

~Laughing can lower blood sugar levels, increase antibodies in saliva to fight off respiratory infections, decrease serum cortisol to help reduce the effects of stress, and also protect against stomach ulcers. (read more) 

~* ADDING MORE LAUGHTER TO YOUR LIFE *~

It’s so easy to add more laughter to our daily lives. The internet is full of humorous diversions (like the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph) and our televisions are just a remote click away from offering us many channels with a myriad of programs. Books are a good source, from my favorite satirist Dave Barry to books with humor about living with chronic illness like Karen Duffy’s “Model Patient: My Life as an Incurable Wise Ass.” If money is tight and buying books is a hardship, you can always check out your local library for both books and DVD’s. 

“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.”
~Lord Byron

But there are more ways of tapping into the healing properties of laughter. One activity growing in popularity is Laughter Yoga. What exactly is it? According to Laughter Yoga International: It combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama). Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The concept is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.

To find Laughter Yoga in your area, try clicking HERE.  To learn more and see what doing it looks like, read THIS article and watch the video at the end. You can find more videos on YouTube demonstrating it so you can try it on your own.

In some communities there are Humor Clubs where people join together with the aim of doing humorous activities. Sometimes they use Laughter Yoga, or they just might hold events designed to make each other laugh. If there isn’t one in your area, start your own club with your family or friends. Have a dinner and make everybody wear silly hats. Make everyone share their wackiest dance moves. Hold a sing-a-long with funny songs and try substituting key
words to add to the craziness. Host an Ugly Christmas Sweater party. Invite friends for a Mel Brooks movie marathon. If you are housebound and have difficulty getting out, you can do all these things with an internet group of friends. Make up your own Mad Libs*: have each person submit the needed words and then share the laughs. If you are able to Skype or video chat, have a ‘home scavenger hunt’: select an odd item to find and set a time limit to retrieve it, or choose a mission like who can construct a fake beard the fastest (I'm thinking whipped cream!). Perhaps have a contest to use clothes, make-up, and accessories to create yourself as a selected character (who is the best vampire, alien, or clown). Use your imagination to create your own situations to induce laughter!

Of course, there are also even simpler ways to add humor in your life. Playing with children or with pets is almost always guaranteed to yield laughs. I’ve always said that when playing with a cat, a laser pointer and brown paper bag are a sure way to end up LOLing hilariously.

No matter the form of humor you use to get your daily dose of laughter, it’s the most enjoyable medicine you’ll ever be prescribed!
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*I’ve written a little Mad Lib for you to copy and use (and reuse!) for a bit of fun. I hope it brings you a lot of healthful laughter:

A Quick Trip to the Doctor 
Mad Lib written by Shannon at ‘Nip Pain in the Bud & Let Your Soul Blossom

Here I am at the office of Dr. (a friend or famous person's name) in the (a verb ending in -ing) room before my appointment. The (an adjective) nurse calls me in to check my vitals. I roll up my (a piece of clothing) and she takes my (a liquid) pressure. She also listens to my (a part of the body) (a verb) and counts my pulse. Next she tells me to put on the (a color) (an item of clothing) and get up on the examination (an item of furniture). There's a (a type of noise) on the door and in walks the doctor. “My nurse says you are (an emotion) that you might have a (an adjective) type of (a nonsense word) fever. You know it’s only transmitted by the (a verb) of a (an unusual animal) from the deepest jungle of (a location). Have you ever been there?”

2 comments:

  1. I soooo agree that laughter is truly the best medicine!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Deb,

    I hope you try the Mad Lib. We had a good laugh using it two separate times. Let me know what you think.

    Blessings,
    -Shannon

    ReplyDelete

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