Sweat Equity Magazine Oct/Nov 2013
“How Laughter Heals” By Grace Van Berkum, R.H.N.
What is a powerful medicine that is free, fun, and easy to use? What if I told you this medicine is available to you at any given moment and can help increase the quality of your life and health? What is it you ask? LAUGHTER!
Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.
Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Studies have shown that laughter enhances immune system health and increases the response of tumor and disease fighting antibodies and cells within our body, as well as reducing the stress hormone cortisol. The physical act of laughing causes our muscles to contract thereby releasing endorphins which may reduce aches and pains.
Have you ever laughed so hard that your stomach muscles hurt? Laughing also helps to strengthen the diaphragm, abdominal, facial, respiratory and back muscles!In a study led by Dr. Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, it was found that laughter and humor may help protect against heart attacks by helping in preventing heart disease. Increased laughter and humor has shown to lower blood pressure, increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood – which means it is good for your heart and brain.
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
- Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
- Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
- Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.” Laughter also appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow.
“The ability to laugh — either naturally or as learned behavior — may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer,” says Miller. “We know that exercising, not smoking, and eating foods low in saturated fat, will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list.”
Tips to increase laughter for vibrant living:
- Laugh at yourself. Keep things in perspective. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take yourself less seriously is to talk about times when you took yourself too seriously. Look for the humor in a bad situation, and uncover the irony and absurdity of life. This will help improve your mood and the mood of those around you.
- Surround yourself with people and reminders to lighten up. Surround yourself with funny, uplifting people & avoid those who bring you down. Read, listen, or watch something funny. Go to a comedy club or try out karaoke. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.
- Employ stress reduction techniques. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter. Be grateful & count your blessings. When you are grateful, you are joyful, optimistic, and in the present moment, opening up your heart and closing the door on negativity. Humor takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful, and balanced perspective.
- Learn from children. They are experts on laughing, playing, and being in the moment. Be silly with them! Guaranteed laughter!
- Play with pets. They will make your heart burst with joy which leads to laughter.
- Let go of judgements. When you are more spontaneous and release inhibitions, fears, judgments, criticisms, and doubts of yourself, or others, humor comes naturally.
- Try laughter yoga. I tried it once to see what it was about. It was definitely strange and silly at first, but once I got over my own judgment it made me laugh so hard for 1 hour that I had tears in my eyes! I walked out of that class feeling lighter, brighter, and more joyful.
The ability to laugh easily and frequently throughout our day gives us opportunities to heal and renew. Laughter is an innate, easy, free resource for shifting perceptions, overcoming problems, improving relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health. Let loose and laugh more to improve your life!
Check out another one Grace’s articles in Sweat Equity Magazine: Gracious Living Apple Pie Smoothie