The Power of Laughter - the positive domino effect of something you can do for free!
"Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same. "
- Francesca Reigler
My parents have been staying with me and if there's one thing I can guarantee when having them around it's laughter. We have laughed everyday. From dads guitar playing when we were kids to us kids as teenagers. We bounce off each other setting each other off. Mum and I even have the same laugh which cracks us up even more. My boyfriend is also quite funny and he's often got me in stitches of laughter.
Laughing actually has many health benefits and a really beautiful effect on our physiology. Not only does it directly enhance our emotional state by releasing endorphins (happy hormones) the same as when you exercise, but it has a positive effect on your immune system as well. And we actually change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our blood pressure and pulse go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally - expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
The body also stays in a relaxed state for up to 45 minutes after a good laugh.
We all know that chronic stress is bad and something we should avoid to stay happy and healthy. Not surprisingly it's associated with a decreased immune system response. It comes as no surprise to people with MS that after a stressful or traumatic event our risk of relapse is higher. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.
In fact it has also been shown to affect our blood sugar levels. One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels after eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.
It has also been shown to help with pain. Norman Cousin's who wrote the memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a painful spine condition. Cousins, found that a diet of comedies helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.
So next time your having a rough day with symptoms and you've found yourself in a bad headspace, please don't stay there. Try watching a funny film or youtube clip or being around people who will make you laugh because it really does pick you up. And above all else you'll be doing your body a favour. I make a conscious effort with this now, if i'm ever feeling flat or needing a distraction from symptoms i'll make sure to watch something funny to snap myself out of it.
Some tips from www.helpguide.org on how to start:
- Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
- Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
- Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
- Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”
Creating opportunities to laugh:
- Watch a funny movie or TV show - comedy festivals are great, try the Monreal Comedy Festival on you-tube
- Go to a comedy club, gala or festival
- Seek out funny people
- Share a good joke or a funny story
- Check out your bookstore’s humor section
- Host a game night with friends
- Play with a pet
- Go to a “laughter yoga” class
- Do something silly
- Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke)."