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Laugh Away Stress
Stress, we all have it. Some of us have it more than others. Stress can drain the body of energy, depress the immune system, create states of disease including heart disease, hypertension and cancer, promote injury and rob the mind of focus. It is the primary cause of missed workdays around the world. Too much stress is definitely not a good thing. So, in this stress-filled world, how can we best find relief?
It may sound funny but laughter is the number one prescription for stress relief. Laughter can be an effective self-care tool to combat stress. As Jonathan Swift said: The best doctors in the world are Dr Diet, Dr Quiet and Dr Merryman. And for my money, Dr Merryman appears to be the most effective of the three. So successful, in fact, that there are now many health and wellness practitioners offering humour therapy. Loretta LaRoche has presented two excellent show on humour and stress which have been shown on PBS stations across the United States. Even the health professions have their own outlets, for example the Journal of Nursing Jocularity.
According to the late Dr Laurence Peter, author of the Peter Principle, laughter has an effective and specific role in the reduction of tension resulting from stress. He adds that it is nearly impossible to feel tense while laughing. The bigger the laugh, the lower the tension and the more long-lasting the relief. We may lose some muscular function during bouts of uncontrolled laughter ≠ thus the expression to fall down laughing. Even after the laughter has ended, body tensions continue to decrease. A state of reduced tension may last for an hour after a good laugh.
Laughter has been scientifically shown to reduce muscle tension and to stimulate the heart and lungs. Laughter causes the diaphragm, the main muscle of respiration, to work heavily. Deep respiration that accompanies hearty laughter increases the oxygen level in the blood. Norman Cousins, editor and author turned laughter researcher, has called laughter a form of internal jogging. Thus, it has particular benefits to those who have been physically inactive due to long-term illness.
Laughter increases the production of endorphins, natural painkillers created within the body and of disease-fighting antibodies. Laughter and humour may also play a part in increased longevity.
Norman Cousins, in his best-selling book Anatomy of an Illness, As Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration, detailed his remarkable recovery from a potentially fatal and painful illness using humour therapy. He noted that one ten-minute period of laughter produced two hours of pain-free sleep. As he continued his therapy program, he found that the effect was cumulative, and his health was eventually restored.
Scientific studies have since confirmed Cousinsí observations. Controlled studies have shown that laughter lowers serum corisol levels, increases the number of activated T lymphocytes, increases the number and activity of natural killer cells and increases the number of T cells that have helper/suppressor receptors. In simple language, laughter stimulates the immune system. Such stimulation offsets immune suppression caused by stress.
A sense of humour and ability to laugh gives us the ability to recognize and appreciate the incongruities of life. A good laugh provides a cathartic release, a cleansing of emotions and release of emotional tension.
We have many ways today to bring laughter into our lives if we only allow it to enter. Comedy clubs, theater, television, radio, records, tapes and CDs all are venues for bringing humour and laughter into our lives. Playing with small children and pets can also bring out the laughter in us. Or we can hang around with friends who have a good sense of humour and that special flair for seeing the funny side of any situation.
Once we have established laughter as part of our lifestyle, we often find that it is easier to laugh at lifeís idiosyncracies and at ourselves. As Bill Cosby has said: If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.
Letís laugh and live.
Laugh Away Stress by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1996, 2001, All Rights Reserved.
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