How Does Laughing Relieve Stress? And How to Laugh More Each Day
Think back to a time you laughed so hard, you were bent over, your eyes were watering, and you could hardly draw a breath. How did you feel mentally and physically after such a hard laugh? Did you feel good? Were your cares and worries lifted? Were your muscles relaxed and pain-free? Did things seem right with the world?
According to Benico Barzilai, MD Cleveland Clinic, laughter is an effective means of stress management. He says, “The benefits of laughter cannot be understated. Laughter leads to an immediate reduction in the body’s negative response to stress.”
Science has proven the following Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Laughter:
- Decreased Level of Stress Hormones: including the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
The stress hormone, Cortisol, is also associated with anxiety, depression, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
Adrenaline is the stress hormone associated with our instinctive flight or fight responses. Elevated stress levels resulting in too much adrenaline can leave you nervous, jittery feeling, and sleepless. An abundance of long-term excess stress-induced adrenaline can result in heart damage.
In addition, blood vessels constrict when stress hormones buildup. With restricted blood flow in constricted blood vessels, plaque builds up increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Increased Endorphins, the feel-good chemicals produced by our brain. Endorphins signal safety to the brain and establish a sense of well-being. We normally associate elevated levels of endorphins with exercise. However, research done by British and Finnish researchers show increased laughter increases the rate of endorphins released much like exercise does.
Endorphins help reduce stress and anxiety. Endorphins also help:
- Reduce physical pain by overpowering the brain with feel-good vibes.
- Regulate appetite and reduce weight gain. When we feel good, we forego consoling ourselves with comfort food. Hence, we eat fewer calories.
- Boost self-esteem by helping you feel confident and optimistic.
- Enhance social bonding.
- Ease Distressing Emotions - Laughter can lift grief, diffuse anger, and help release other intense emotions. When we laugh, we shift our focus to happy thoughts, giving us a break from troublesome, anxiety-filled ones. Laughing helps us reset our thought patterns.
According to the Newport Academy, our perspective is changed with laughter. When we see the humor in any difficult situation the situation becomes less serious, less intense, and less scary. Laughter sets us on healing paths.
- Burned calories - Laughing increasing our energy levels and strengthens our core muscles. Laughing is such an effective part of weight loss, Liz Vaccariello, in her book The Digest Diet instructs followers to schedule thirty minutes a day to laugh out loud. Losing weight has never been so fun.
- Relieves pain - Stress shows up in our bodies in the form of physical tension, often carried in our neck and shoulder muscles. Researchers say a good hard laugh relaxes muscles for at-least forty-five minutes.
In 1965, the late Norman Cousins, a political journalist, found laughter to be the the best medicine to combat his ankylosing spondylitis. The pain of this collagen illness made him incapable of moving his jaw. When he realized his prescribed pain pills’ included the side effect of internal bleeding, Cousins looked for alternative pain therapies.
After studying that negative emotions exhausted the adrenal gland, Cousins figured that positive emotions would have the opposite effect. Collins watched comedies to ease his pain. After ten minutes of hearty laughing through Candid Camera or a Marx Brothers film, he found he could sleep for up to two hours pain-free.
- Boosted Immune System: Laughing increases the number of antibodies and the activity level of the antibodies to fight infections. Doctors Lee Berk and Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California are studying the link between laughter and the immune system. Results show:
- Laughter increases the number and strength of killer cells which attack viruses and some types of cancer.
- Laughter emboldens T cells to ‘turn it up a notch’. Along with regulating the activity of other immune cells, T cells also kill infected host cells.
- Laughter increases antibodies IgA and IgB. IgA fights upper respiratory infections. IgB helps antibodies to pierce infected cells.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health: A good laugh physically increases the air we take into our lungs and our heart rate which increases oxygen circulation throughout the vascular system.
- Laughter also releases nitric oxide. The chemical Nitric Oxide benefits the body by:
- Dilating blood vessels to increase overall blood flow.
- Preventing the buildup of cholesterol plaque on the inside of blood vessels.
- Reducing inflammation in the vascular system including the heart.
With the numerous positive effects of laughter, it only makes sense to make laughing a high priority in our busy lives. Laughter might be one of the cheapest and easiest alternative health therapies to reduce stress and improve our health.
7 Ways to Bring More Laughter into Your Life
- Stream an old sitcom or comedy- Sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island, Family Ties, Three’s Company, Last Man Standing, Roseanne, etc. keep the laughs rolling in thirty-minute segments.
- Have a pet video or meme war with a friend or colleague.
- Share the humor in your classroom.
- Let your students write jokes and riddles on paper slips. And then share the jokes and riddles in a daily drawing.
- Read a humorous book to your students. You have lots of choices from simple picture books like Mo Williams’ book “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and easy chapter books like “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannett. If you need help finding funny books, just ask your media assistant.
- Have a thirty-second silly face contest.
- Have each child write down his or her favorite animal on a slip of paper. Put on silly music, draw a slip of paper, and have everyone dance like that animal for a minute.
- Host a game night. Laughter is contagious in social gatherings. Play amusing games like Memes, Apples to Apples, Things, Charades, or Minute to Win it games.
- Spend time with a funny person in your life who has the knack of making the ordinary humorous.
- Humorize your work area with comic strips, pictures of animals in funny moments, or daily joke calendars.
- Try Laughter Yoga where you laugh out loud for no reason at all. Studies show forcing yourself to laugh out loud triggers all the health benefits of laughing because you find something humorous. YouTube has numerous laughter yoga videos to explore.
Laughter in your life is part of mental and physical well-being. Whatever makes you laugh, spend time each day to laugh out loud. Doing so will lighten your mood, reduce the effects of stress, increase your heart health, boost your immune system, burn calories, and relieve pain.
Now I think I’ll go play charades with my children. I love their impersonations of slugs, seals, squirrels, toilets, showerheads, badgers, movie themes, and more. I'm ready for a good laugh!
Article by Miss Jae
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Cafasso, Jacquelyn. “Why do we need Endorphins?” Healthline. 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/endorphins
“Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter.” Holistic Online. https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/Humor-Therapy.pdf
“Why Laughter is Good for Mental Health.” Newport Academy. 2018. https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/laughter-good-for-you/
“The Remarkable Story of Norman Cousins.” Laugh Off Life. https://sites.google.com/site/laughofflife/page-1
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