Laughter truly IS the best medicine
Last updated: March 2021
I can imagine that at first glance the notion of laughing about a chronic disease borders on absurdity. But let me make a case for why laughing can actually improve your health! I love to laugh as anyone who knows me can tell you. Little did I ever realize how much it could influence my well-being.
Research shows the health benefits of laughter are wide ranging. To this point studies have shown that laughter may help relieve pain, bring greater happiness and even increase immunity. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormones. It also increases the levels of health enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters which reduce stress, a big flare inducer in those of us with RA.
Haven't you ever felt like you "have to laugh or you'll cry?". Or have you experienced the cleansed feeling after a good laugh? Laughter provides both a physical and emotional release. A good "belly laugh" exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. Laughing even gives your heart a workout! Humor brings the focus away from anger, guilt, stress and negative emotions in a more beneficial way than just mere distractions.
Our response to stressful events can be altered by whether we view something as a "threat" or a "challenge". Humor can give us a more lighthearted perspective and help us view events as "challenges", thereby making them less threatening and more positive.
Of course there are social benefits to laughter as well. It connects us to others in an intimate way. Just as with smiling or acts of kindness, most people find laughter contagious. As you share your humor with others, you're helping them to realize the benefits to their well-being. By elevating the mood of those around you, you can reduce their stress and perhaps improve the quality of social interaction you experience with them, reducing your own stress level even more!
So how do we integrate laughter into our daily lives?
Entertainment: TV and movies, plays and performances abound in our world and offer a myriad of choices! I personally love all of them and take any opportunity I can get to see a great comedic play, go to a comedy club or enjoy a great movie that has humor as its theme. I also enjoy a good humorous book or other printed materials as well.
Socializing: I love to spend time with friends laughing and sharing humorous stories or jokes as an evening unfolds. Hosting or attending a party or game night is a great avenue for sharing laughter, which is often contagious among groups. I have several friends whose actual laugh will get me giggling even if the reason for the laugh does not seem funny! I am sure you have all experienced that. Just watch one of the "laughing baby videos" on Facebook and you will see what I mean. In no time you will find yourself laughing along with it.
Discover humor in your own life: When the urge is upon you to start that cycle of complaining about the way life/RA/the world has treated you, pause and reflect on it from a more positive standpoint. If something is so ridiculous or frustrating it is over the top maybe you can actually look back on it and laugh after some time has passed. Many is the time I have recounted some absurdly over the top frustration in a humorous way. It helps me as much as the person hearing it to inject humor into it! One example from a while back was me trying to give my dog a bath while my hands were flaring and so painful and stiff it was miserable. Picture me trying to not only bathe and rinse her but wrap a squirming dog in a towel, blow her dry all the while with virtually no hand dexterity at all! It really was hilarious and looked like a comedy skit from Saturday Night Live. Taking on a positive attitude and finding humor in your daily life and circumstances will improve your mood every time. Approaching life in a more mirthful way will make you much less stressed about negative events while achieving the health benefits of laughter!
Fake it until you make it: Just as studies show the positive effects of smiling occur whether the smile is fake or real, fake laughter also provides the benefits mentioned in this post. Our bodies cannot distinguish between fake laughter that you just start doing on purpose or real laughter that comes from something you authentically find humorous - the physical benefits are identical, with the fake laughter often leading to the real thing anyway!
Remember that old adage; Turn that frown upside down - Good advice we should all heed!
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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