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May 28, 2020 Mental Health

We have all heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine,” but did you know that there are real health benefits of laughter? As we deal with high-stress situations, such as the coronavirus pandemic, we may find ourselves feeling anxious, afraid, and distracted by the ongoing negative news. At a time like this, laughter may be just what the doctor ordered.

“Trouble knocked at the door, but, hearing laughter, hurried away” ~ Benjamin Franklin

In our current crisis, surprisingly, humor is everywhere. Laughter binds us together against a universal threat. A collective chortle allows us to escape reality when it begins to feel overwhelming, even if it’s only for 15 to 20 minutes a day. Millions of people are flocking to social media platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook for comic relief. Sharing funny memes, dance routines, or jokes about quarantine boredom, brings a ray of sunshine on dark days, and staves off loneliness during social distancing.

Comedians like Bill Burr, Ray Romano, Adam Sandler, and Jimmy Fallon were among 90 comedians who raised more than $350,000 for the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund through ‘Laugh Aid’ Livestream. The Comedy Gives Back event provided more than 2.5 million viewers with more than eight hours of much-needed laughter.  

Even elected officials in some cities are leveraging humor to nudge citizens to comply with “stay-at-home” orders. Chicagoans are getting plenty of laughs from their Mayor Lori Lightfoot memes, which have proliferated the city. Lightfoot has countered her hard-nosed, no-nonsense persona with lighthearted and funny public service announcements (PSA) that have resonated with its residents, some calling her a memelord’s dream

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo recruited comedian Danny DeVito to do a PSA to promote Stay Home, Stop the Spread, Save Lives campaign, addressing the challenge of density in New York City and encouraging people to stay home. While California Governor Gavin Newson tapped comedian Larry David to deliver his “stay-at-home” message, and Metuchen, New Jersey Mayor, Jonathan Busch starred in his own satirical hand washing video promoting good hygiene.      

Why are politicians, comedians, doctors, and nurses turning to humor during a pandemic when emotions are running high with fear and anxiety? Laughter has been shown to strengthen our immune system, increase endorphin levels, improve alertness, lower blood pressure, increase the production of t-cells to help the pituitary gland release its suppressing opiates. 

Research has shown that excessive negative emotions like anxiety, fear, and sadness can interfere with our daily lives and undermine our physical health. Evidence suggests that people with anxiety disorders are at higher risk of developing several chronic medical conditions. They may also have more severe symptoms if they become ill and are at higher risk of death. 

Positive Psychology studies have shown that positive emotions such as excitement, joy, and happiness resulting from laughter, can have far-ranging health benefits. Laughter can help reduce pain, increase immunity, and helps build resilience to stress. Laughing is an innate part of our universal vocabulary. We are born with the capacity to laugh, and we all understand the language. But as adults, life tends to get more serious, and we laugh less frequently than we did as children. One study suggests that healthy children may laugh as much as 400 times a day, but adults tend to laugh only 15 times a day.

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

A Laugh A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

While there may not seem like much to laugh about these days, laughter may be the one contagious thing you don’t mind catching. Remember how you felt the last time someone left you in tears after delivering a hilarious joke? Consider the benefits a good laugh can have for our stress levels and overall well-being. Laughter is not a cure-all or replacement for prescribed medicines; however, the Mayo Clinic has cited proven long-term, and short-term benefits humor can have on enhancing our lifetime experiences:

Short- and Long-Term Health Benefits of Laughter

Boosted Immune System: It may come as a surprise to hear that negative thoughts can produce chemical reactions that bring more stress to your system, ultimately weakening your immunity. However, you can combat that with positive thoughts and laughs, which can release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses. It may be a good idea to up the laughter before flu season!

Stress Relief: When you’re laughing, do you feel stressed? Kind of hard to imagine feeling both at the same time, right? With high blood pressure being a risky side effect of stress and anxiety, we recommend laughing, which can ignite and cool your stress response. As a result, you’ll find a more normalized heart rate and blood pressure. 

Soothes Muscle Tension: Muscles tight? Laughing can stimulate and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Improves Your Mood: This one may seem obvious because if we are laughing, we must be in a decent mood! However, we’re diving a bit deeper. Depression affects many, including those suffering from a chronic illness, many of whom are at risk of experiencing depression. Laughter can have long-term benefits in reducing anxiety brought on by depression.

Supports Organ Function: Get a bigger dose of that oxygen-rich air with laughter! In turn, you’ll stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also increases endorphins from the brain with both euphoric and calming effects. 

Natural Pain Relief: Why take pain killers when you can produce them naturally? Laughter may help ease troublesome pain by causing the body to produce natural painkillers.

Bringing Laughter Into Your Life

Fortunately, laughter is not something you have to learn. It is a natural part of life that is instinctive, something we are all born to do. The seriousness of life can be tempered with humorous interventions like genuine voiced laughter. Searching for “funny” when faced with traumatic or challenging circumstances may seem counterintuitive, but laughing as a defense mechanism will help us cope and is good for us in the process. 

If laughing is not a regular part of your life, but you would like it to be, try these easy (and free!) suggestions:

Smile: Start with a smile. A smile is the beginning of laughter, and people are drawn to both. Look up and smile at people you pass on the street, co-workers in the elevator, clerks in the supermarket, or the bus driver. Like laughter, a smile is contagious, and people will smile back.

Surround yourself with fun, playful people: FaceTime or Zoom, the people who make you laugh. Sharing humor can ease tensions during difficult times.

Cue up the comedy: Instead of tuning into the news in the evening, watch a funny movie, tune into a comedian’s act or watch reruns of sitcoms with canned laughter.

Find the funny in everyday situations: Funny situations can be found all around us—the antics of a silly cat or dog, or finding humor in the toilet paper shortage – why do people need so much tp? Having the ability to laugh at yourself is an excellent start to laughing at the funny in life.

Laughter is a shared social signal and makes us feel like we are in control, particularly at a time, we cannot control much. It is free, it is spontaneous, it brings people together, it is relatively uncensored, and it feels pretty darn good. It is ok to laugh during these tough times, as long as you don’t laugh at the expense of someone else’s feelings. 

“Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.” ~ John Cleese

 


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