You are gasping for air. Tears are in your eyes. You can’t move your hands and you can’t feel your legs. You try to form sentences, even make a sound…but you can’t. You manage to force out a few words. “That was the funniest thing I’ve heard all week,” you say, as your laughing fit comes to an end.
Laughter is good for you. It is a very powerful force that positively affects the whole body. The breath released during a hearty laugh has been clocked at speeds as fast as 170 miles per hour. Laughter stimulates the brain, the nervous system, the respiratory system, the hormonal system, and the muscular system. Numerous studies show that it lowers blood pressure, lightens depression, increases muscle flexion, can reduce allergy symptoms, strengthens the immune system, and reduces stress!
Stress affects more and more people in this day and age with our increasingly fast-paced society. The faster technology gets, the faster our lives seem to get, and the more pressure and stress we feel. There are two kinds of stress: distress and eustress. Distress is the “bad” kind of stress that causes tension and anxiety and can cause severe medical problems, particularly heart disease, and not to mention an unhappy existence. To stay healthy, the tension must be released. Many people don’t know how or think they don’t have time to release this anxiety, which is why serious problems occur. Yoga, tai-chi, and meditation are effective and popular ways to release stress and feel good, but there is a far simpler way: laughing.
Laughter is a state of eustress, the “good” stress. In his book, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Sigmund Freud describes laughter as the body’s way of safely releasing anxiety, aggression, fear, and anger. It provides a counter balance to tension producing healthy and positive emotions. Laughing decreases stress hormones including adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, dopac, and the growth hormone allowing them to return to normal levels. These stress hormones constrict blood vessels causing high blood pressure and heart problems. The decrease in stress hormones allows the immune system to work more effectively, releasing Natural Killer cells that fight viruses. Laughter is your body’s built-in stress releaser. When you laugh, even chuckle, your entire body is working to help improve your health and well-being.
Another way to reduce stress and improve your overall health is to exercise. What you might not know is that laughing is aerobic. Laughter and exercise have similar physiological processes. When you laugh or exercise, your body increases the endorphins and neurotransmitters (the hormones that make you feel good) while releasing the stress hormones. Laughing also increases your body’s ability to utilize oxygen and causes a cleansing of the lungs that can help with emphysema (see http://www.holistic-online.com/
A good, hearty laugh is equivalent to an “internal jogging.” Laughing gives the diaphragm, abdominal, intercostal, respiratory accessory, and facial muscles a complete workout. Some people even include their back, leg, and arm muscles in a good laugh. You don’t have to go to the gym to get a good workout. You can improve your health by laughing.
Laughter not only provides stress release and exercise, but reduces pain as well. Laughing triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, and provides a temporary distraction from pain. The endorphins released during laughter have proven to help reduce the pain and symptoms of arthritis and enhance treatments of many illnesses and diseases. Doctors are starting to use humor to help treat their patients. In some hospitals, doctors read one-liners to patients after surgeries and during treatments because they find improvements in the health of these patients as opposed to those not exposed to humor (see http://www.holistic-online.com/Humor_Therapy/
humor_therapy_benefits.htm). People everywhere are gaining awareness of the power and importance of laughter.
So if stress is taking over your life, if you are feeling unhealthy, or you just want some relief…LAUGH! Watch a funny movie, hang around a funny friend, read the comic strips in the newspaper, or read one of those funny forwards that your friends e-mail to you. If all else fails and you can’t seem to get a laugh anywhere…fake it!! Pretend to laugh…out loud. It is the action of laughter, not the mood that your body reacts to, so you can get all of the benefits of laughter even if you’re not in the mood to laugh. The more you laugh, the better. The harder you laugh, the better. So let it out…your health could depend on it.