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Don’t Forget to Laugh! The Health Benefits of Laughter

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Nina Brooks

It is no secret that growing up and dealing with the real world can be stressful. It can be assumed that everyone’s feelings about the harsh realities of it shares one simple trait; it sucks. So that brings up the next puzzling question; how do we deal with these stresses to soften the blow? Vacation? Happy hour? Shopping? Cat videos online?

What if there was a way that was cheap, easy, and something everyone has the ability to do? There is and that easy way is laughter! Robert Powell, a 25 year old student at St. Petersburg College feels “laughter is an incredibly effective stress reliever for [him] in any situation”.

Laughing reduces cortisol, a hormone that is released when dealing with stress. Cortisol’s main jobs are to increase blood sugar levels, help with the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbs, and interrupt the immune system. Laughing helps calm down the reaction to stress, which then affects heart rate and blood pressure, helping the person and the body to feel good. Mayoclinic.org says when stressors are regularly present and a person feels constantly under attack, this prolonged response to stress can disrupt the body’s processes. This disruption can put someone at risk for various health problems such as anxiety, heart disease, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment, and depression.

 Mayoclinic.org also mentions how laughing helps stimulate important organs in the body because it increases “the intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates [the] heart, lungs and muscles”. In addition, laughing helps to relieve pain because it makes the body produce its very own “natural painkillers”, and is a mood booster, since when someone laughs, it releases endorphins, which are the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain.

Marc Cracchiolo, an oncology registered nurse, believes laughter can sometimes “help [his] patients cope with their unfortunate situations… They look towards their cherished memories and laughter to get them through the treatments or prepare themselves for the worst.”

Laughter yoga is a great way to start you on your path of en-laughterment. Laughter yoga consists of exercises of voluntary laughter. It involves slightly silly interactive exercises that are usually done in a group setting. Putting an imaginary cellphone to your ear and laughing, and hearty laughing with arms up while looking up to draw the laugh straight from the heart are just a few examples of the exercises done in laughter yoga found on Active.com.
If being in a group of people you don’t really know and forcing yourself to laugh is too weird and unnatural for you, there are easy day-to-day things you can do to make sure laugh therapy is included in your busy schedule. Robert attempts to “fill the majority of [his] days with comedic content from podcasts and radio shows and dumb articles.” He also tries to throw in a good pun to get a smile out of his friends when he can, even if they are cheesy and dumb.

Organizing a game night with friends also helps to incorporate more laughter in your life. Marc likes to have game nights because “all of [his] friends have serious jobs. So, it’s nice to have time to make fun of each other and laugh! Laughter brings a lightness to life!”

Alicia Carrillo, a 21 year old Psychology student at the University of Tampa, finds “laughing is probably one of [her] favorite things. [She] laughs at anything remotely comedic,” which is why she tries to incorporate nights out to local comedy clubs like Side Splitters or the Tampa Improv into her busy schedule. Since she works with people on a day-to-day basis as a barista, she believes “laughing and smiling creates a customer connection. When you laugh, it jump-starts a relationship, even if it’s only for those few seconds!”

It’s important to remember two things when it comes to laugh therapy. One is to remember to laugh with and not at someone. Dr. Lee S. Berk, an expert on the benefits of laughter and an associate professor in the School of Medicine at LLU, bases his beliefs and studies on the importance of “mirthful” laughter; laughter coming from happiness instead of feelings of embarrassment, anxiety, and/or maliciousness. Secondly, laughing ranges from a small chuckle to a booming laugh, so as long as you let out some kind of laugh, you’re on the right track.

Remembering the benefits and small ways to laugh will help out with those stressful times and put you on track to a healthier and happier you. The best accessory anyone can have is a smile!

Header photo by Gregory Gill (flickr creative commons license)

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