How to heal yourself and others - laugh!
When you go to the doctor with a serious problem the last thing you would expect him to prescribe would be: laughter! Being sick is serious business but you can also laugh it off.Credit: Sue Visser
It's FREE! It's FUN! It's HEALING! We forget that laughter is the best medicine
So how does laughter help to heal us - is there any clinical evidence?
In 1979 the New England Journal of Medicine published an article about the observations of Norman Cousins with regard to his experiences with the pain of arthritis. He gives a lot of his pain relieving credit to self-prescribed doses of belly laughs. He asked to see plenty of comedy movies like Candid Camera and his favourite - the Marx brothers. He asked people to read him jokes and funny stories. Doctors measured a distinct drop in the amount of inflammation after every period of laughter. The pain killing effect lasted for at least two hours. Despite the usual skepticism from some doctors, there is a real link between health and laughter.
During extensive studies undertaken in 1995 in America in Stanford the following physiological changes were documented: Improved function of the muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems after a lot of laughing. The louder and more physically manifested the volleys of laughter the better they worked. Laughter definitely has a stimulating effect on these systems, throughout the body. During boisterous laughter, the kind that makes you shake, rattle, roll and cry, many muscles are activated and this provides an internal workout that is particularly beneficial to people who are bed-ridden or are bound to a wheel chair. The deep and happy form of relaxation that follows on from a good laugh-out eases muscle tension which may help to break the spasm-pain cycle that is experienced by those afflicted from: arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica or nerve pain
How can laughter affect the immune system - do we laugh off deadly viruses?
During a 1995 study by Doctor Berk of California on the effect of laughter on the immune system, positive results were obtained from volunteers who watched a 60-minute comedy video. Blood samples were taken before, during and after viewing the video as well as the next day. There was an increase in activated T cells, natural killer cells, B cells and immuno globulins, the group of proteins that includes our infection fighting antibodies. The interferon level rose substantially and stayed high even during the following day. During a similar study in 1989, it was shown that laughter helps to decrease the output of stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol and this helps us to relax.
Laughing helps to enhance a positive frame of mind and this helps to boost the immune system. This in turn increases our ability to laugh off the common cold - but don't sneeze over everybody at the same time!
Prescribe laughter for pain
Strenuous exercise, excitement, aggression, fear and shock make us release adrenaline.This hormone from the inner tissue of the adrenal gland is always released with little messengers called endorphins. They help to control pain and they have a mood enhancing effect. People become addicted to activities that release endorphins because they have the same chemical structure as opiate drugs like morphine. Have you ever wondered why you feel so good after a hectic physical workout? Laughter also releases a generous supply of endorphins.
Hormones and neurotransmitters are made by the body out of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. We release them in response to stimuli that reach the brain and in this way we dispense our own medicines to ourselves. From painkillers, mood enhancers and brain activators to sleeping potions and sex stimulants, the body can generate its own medicine. Laughter therapy can be used as a means of pain control. Healthy guffaws and roars of laughter give the diaphragm a vigorous workout and this releases the body’s own painkillers and anti-depressants.
How do foods and food supplements help to make us laugh?
We crave carbohydrates and sweet things when levels of the feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin are low. Take Vitamin B 3, called Niacin plus magnesium for a shortcut to making more serotonin. Meditation, deep breathing and relaxation techniques will also help to enhance these effects. A deficiency of amino acids, especially phenylalanine can seriously affect our sense of humour, especially if we are in pain. A supplement of this particular amino acid helps us to release our own endorphins, the natural painkillers and euphoriants. The human body is truly an amazing medicine chest. All we have to do is give it the right nutrients and messages to release these chemicals. The more you laugh, the more these substances can circulate freely throughout your body. Some hospitals offer trolleys full of joke books and comics for patients to make them laugh. Providing an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals and good nutritious food are an important part of the "laughter therapy."
But why can't I make people laugh like my friends can?
Firstly, you have to take yourself in hand: What is the main reason you never seem to be able to crack a joke at the right time? It is because you are already worrying about what people are going to think about you. The big: what if'? What if they don't all burst out laughing simultaneously? What if they think I am not funny? What if I offend somebody? Is this why you cannot crack a quick joke? Don't worry. It is an acquired skill to be a stand up comedian and they will tell you how difficult it is to keep the pot on the boil all the time with very funny jokes. The most successful funny people have the ability to laugh at themselves and they do not care about what they think.
How can we make people laugh?
You have to get beyond this: caring what people think. I conquered this one by assuming the worst: So, they think I am crazy, I'm just a stupid old bag and sometimes my jokes are so weak, everybody turns away in embarrassment. So what. I love people, I care about them and I like to see them happy. If nobody else is going to cheer them up, I will at least have a bash. I remember stepping into a full train carriage at a London underground station. Everybody was dressed in their winter worst, in black overcoats and they had their most miserable faces on.
Nobody bothered to make any room for us and our luggage. I said in a loud voice:" What is the matter with everybody here, have they forgotten how to smile? What a miserable bunch of people!"
Silence: they all just stared and glared at me. At the next station, one old man hobbled off the train, looked straight at me, and gave me half a smile! Oh, how English. Also try jokes on strangers, in lifts, or on the telephone to people you don't know. If they don't work, who cares! If they do, I make a note of how, and why and add them to my list of favourites. Making people laugh can take a bit of effort. You have to let go of a lot of self importance, be prepared to make a fool of yourself and yes, sometimes you will not even get half a smile, but do not feel rejected. Your own family especially, can learn to laugh at themselves and you can help them along!
Bad incidents in the past are often very funny when you recall them
Even when I am experiencing traumatic events, I know that in a few days, weeks or months, I will be making people laugh by recalling these hardships. We all have these stories to tell, and they get funnier and funnier as we add poetic license to them and compete with other people's stories. This type of humour works very well, especially if the joke is on you. Be careful not to tell cruel stories that make people feel uncomfortable, especially if they are deficient in the humour department. Keep to your own trials and tribulations and remember, next time you are having a good old stress-out, you are doing your homework for making more and more people laugh - most of all, yourself. Another trick is to make yourself smile, all the time. It fools the body out of generating too many stress hormones!
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to smile, regardless of how we feel
It takes some doing, but it is a worthwhile habit. A smile engages less facial muscles than a frown or a glare and people respond well to a friendly, open face, no matter where you are or who you are with.
Once I was in a supermarket and I was battling to read the signs above the isles. I was screwing up my eyes and trying to glare at the blurry writing when two children came past; " Why is that old woman so cross?" I heard them say. I learnt my lesson - caught in the act!
The hormones in our body are released in direct accordance with how we react to a situation. If you are tense and frowning, you pump adrenalin: your body goes into stress and survival mode. No sense of humour here, only a raise in blood pressure, tense muscles and all the stress signals that produce the opposite of ambience and well being. If you are happy and relaxed, you do not release any stress hormones into the bloodstream and your body remains in the "rest and digest" mode that keeps you healthy and well maintained.
But isn't it untruthful to look happy when you are feeling lousy?
The mind tells the body what to do. If you are feeling angry, worried and stressed all the time, your body will continuously have to pump out stress hormones. This is not good for you and very soon you will run out of cortisone, from the adrenal glands. You become depressed and tired and develop a condition known as burn-out or adrenal stress. This can be avoided. Stress is not the issue here, it's how you react to the stress.
The best way is to override your natural inclination to be "justifiably angry" is to earn to let go, to smile and not take the matter so seriously. Of course there is a time to be angry or to be sad. But be done with it and get back to the smiling mode to prevent stress hormones from undermining your health. Even a smile is a very healthy habit to establish. You will soon see that your world will change in direct accordance with the amount of " "smiling hours" you clock up during the day. People will begin to like you more. They will relax in your company and you can begin to let go, to make a few jokes. Soon you will be laughing more freely, you will see the funny side of just about everything and you will feel good. You will begin to feel openly and honestly happy. So start the habit, regardless of how you feel. At least other people will respond in a more friendly way to you.
Practice makes perfect: more laughter as a daily habit
If you take yourself too seriously you will always be miserable and vulnerable to pain and stress. Making yourself and others laugh releases a lot of tension in your day. Try to develop a healthy sense of humour, read and tell jokes and watch comedy films and you will be investing in: Laughter, the best medicine.