When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws may be just what the doctor ordered. A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.
Laughter can stimulate many organs in your body. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air; stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles; increases the endorphins, those natural painkillers which are more powerful than morphine, that may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
Laughter and humor can activate and relieve your stress response. A good belly roll laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate just like climbing a few flights of stairs or other exercise. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter has been shown to stimulate your immune system. Negative thoughts can reeve up your fight or flight response and increase the cortisol level in your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity to fight off disease, including cancer. In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release those hormones that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
Finally, laughter increases personal satisfaction making it easier to cope with difficult situations and improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter and also exercise can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
What are some suggestions for improving your sense of humor? I’m not suggesting you try to become the next Jimmy Fallon or Trevor Noah. But I do want to suggest that humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your sense of humor may be easier than you think.
Begin by finding a few photos, greeting cards or comic strips that make you chuckle. Then paste them up at home or in your office. Keep funny movies, books or comedy albums on hand for when you need a shot of humor. Look online at joke websites. (http://jokes.cc.com/ and https://www.rd.com/jokes/) Go to a comedy club.
Take your work seriously but not yourself. Try laughing at yourself and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Share a laugh with friends who make you laugh. And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
A bit of advice is to avoid laughing at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
Some suggested reading includes the classic, The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, written in 1979 by Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review.
Bottom Line: Perhaps the next time you go to the doctor, you might just receive a prescription for a dose of laughter. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke. 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. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.
Dr. Neil Baum is a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane Medical School.
He can be reached at 504-891-8454 or through his website, www.neilbaum.com.