This subduing of something that is natural and healing can have profound effects on our bodies and minds. We can however learn to ‘reclaim our laughter’, letting it work its magic to facilitate health and healing in our lives.
A famous study shows that 30 minutes of ‘mirthful laughter’ (watching a funny movie) decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood by up to 87%. Cortisol and adrenalin are great in emergencies but when the body doesn’t get a chance to return to normal, damaging chronic stress occurs.
Prolonged high cortisol levels interfere with desirable processes like: thyroid function, mental performance, bone density, muscle tissue, inflammatory response and immune function, and tend to create such unwanted effects as blood sugar imbalances, increase in abdominal fat (‘apple’ pattern) and raised blood pressure.
For healthy cortisol levels it is essential to invoke the body’s relaxation response after each ‘fight or flight’ occasion. Laughter is Nature’s built-in ‘reset button’ and if you laugh as we did as children up to 400 times a day your cortisol levels will be exemplary, whatever life is chucking at you! Even the mere act of smiling has been shown to reverse the stress response in our neuro-endocrine system and stimulate our brain waves into patterns of deep healing and longevity.
There are of course many other ways that laughter benefits our bodies and our minds…
Laughter helps you relax.
When you laugh you lose muscle control because laughter has a profoundly relaxing effect on the muscles.
Laughter re-oxygenates your blood. Laughter alters your breathing cycle: more oxygen is inhaled and more toxic carbon dioxide is exhaled. All that fresh air brings more oxygen into your body and in turn into the blood.
Laughter is good exercise. Did you ever feel exhausted from a hearty bout of laughter? This is because laughter acts on your body as exertion. According to Dr. William Fry at Stanford University, one minute of laughter is ‘equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine’.
Laughter lowers your blood pressure.
There is compelling evidence that regular vigorous laughter can permanently reduce blood pressure with no side effects! People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressure than the average person. The way it works is that when you have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases – just long enough to boost oxygen and blood supply to tissues – which beneficially expands and energises the whole system. But then it decreases and tends to settle at levels below your normal rate.
Laughter boosts immune function.
Research carried out at Waterloo University in Ontario has established that exposure to laughter improves immune system functioning and increases antibodies in the bloodstream – and significant rises in the body’s natural defences.
Laughter helps relieve pain.
We feel like the world is sunnier after a spell of laughter. This is because laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural source of pain killers. Endorphins have such a dramatic effect on pain that ‘clown doctors’ are used by some enterprising hospitals to assist with pain management – particularly with children!
Of course, like everything else we can do to heal ourselves, laughter and play need to become part of our daily routines. Here are some tips that might help:
1. Take up skipping (Step – hop, step – hop). It is great exercise and I have yet to find anyone who can keep a straight face while doing it!
2. Make it a rule to choose funny books, films and programs whenever life is stressful – and decide that you are a person who laughs out loud.
3. You can get small pots of ‘blowing bubbles’ that hang round your neck. Wear one regularly and try blowing bubbles at people instead of arguing with them!
4. Contact your nearest Laughter Network member (laughternetwork.co.uk) who will help increase the laughter in your life. Suggest that your employer or club invites them to give you all a Laughter Session and then train to be a Laughter Leader yourself.
5. Get a copy of my book, It Could Be Verse, An Anthology of Laughter Quotations and keep it in the loo to remind yourself of all the wonderful reasons to laugh as much as you can every single day of your life!
Blessings, Kit Hammond Stapely
Kit Hammond Stapely pulled off a miracle when her cancer diagnosis became critical in 1998 and credits laughter and humour for helping her ride lightly enough over heavy ground to triumph.