The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” is one that gets thrown a lot these days, but there’s actually some truth to this age-old saying! Gelotologists (those who study laughter and its effects on our body and mind) have found that there are many health benefits to laughter. We’ve rounded up just a few here that might convince you to throw your head back and let loose with friends this week.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
When you laugh, your body releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural feel-good chemical. Some studies have even found that laughter can decrease the production of stress hormones. This promotes an overall sense of mental well-being that in turn helps reduce anxiety. Laughter also helps the body to de-stress by engaging our muscles; once we’ve stopped laughing, our muscles relax, and that muscle relaxation can last up to 45 minutes. When our bodies are relieved of physical tension, our mind tends to de-stress as well.
Shift Your Perspective
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Humor can be used to help reframe problems and conflicts that may otherwise seem overwhelming and bleak. When you look at your difficulties with a humorous perspective, it creates a psychological distance that helps you remove yourself from the problem. This distance between the problem and your reaction allows you to see the situation in a less threatening light and feel less overwhelmed, anxious or hopeless. Choosing to laugh at a problem does not change your circumstances, but it will help you see them differently so that you can begin to tackle them one by one.
Give Your Body a Boost
Laughter isn’t just good for your mental health—it may increase your physical fitness as well. The effects of laughter and exercise are quite similar because laughter stretches muscles throughout our face and body and sends oxygen to our tissues. A study done by Maciej Buchowski at Vanderbilt University found that 10 to 15 minutes of laughing burned 50 calories. A significant number of participants in one study experienced a reduction in their blood pressure after attending just seven sessions of laughter yoga, which consisted of 45-second cycles of simulated laughter followed by deep breathing and stretching. All these benefits make getting a few more laughs in your day an easy decision for the health-conscious individual.
Engage in Therapeutic Practices
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Many studies have been done on the use of laughter as a form of therapy and the results have been very positive. One study found that both spontaneous laughter (triggered by external circumstances) and self-induced laughter (triggered by oneself at will) have therapeutic benefits, with or without humor. Many hospitals and doctors incorporate laughter therapy into the treatment plans of cancer patients. One facilitator of laughter therapy, Dr. Puckett, says participants often start laughing for real once they get into the exercises, which helps them de-stress and forget about their cancer.
Laughter has many beneficial properties and is great for your mental health. Next time you’re having a bad mental health day, try watching a funny movie, spending time with your friends or getting involved with laughter therapy. You may just find you notice a big difference in how you feel!
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