When was the last time you had a belly-jiggling, eye-watering laugh? Oh, it may not seem terribly sophisticated, but laughter is a great treatment for mood and anxiety woes. And, really, there’s a lot more behind the “best medicine” angle than you might think…
‘I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep…’
A Little Background
The foundation for our chat is a Psychiatric Times article entitled “Laughter Is the Best Medicine,” written by psychiatrist Kavita Khajuria, MD.
Dr. Khajuria takes the importance of humor in medical treatment all the way back to the 13th century. That’s when the “Father of French Surgery,” Henri de Mondeville, was known to mix-in humor with his post-operative treatments.
Khajuria went on to highlight author and professor Norman Cousins, who did quite a bit of research on the biochemistry of human emotion. In fact, he believed emotion was the key to success in fighting illness. Unfortunately, he had the opportunity to test his theories when he was crippled by sudden-onset connective tissue disease and arthritis.
Cousins developed his own recovery program, which included self-induced laughter sessions fueled by comic films. According to Cousins, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep…When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
Cousins’ wrestling match with his illnesses is detailed in his 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient. Check it out.
So Why All the Hype?
Dr. Khajuria shares that numerous studies reveal the beneficial effects of laughter. For instance, laughing during a funny movie elevates the pain threshold and aids in breaking the cycle between pain, sleep loss, depression, and immunosuppression. (Just ask Mr. Cousins.)
Laughter also lowers blood pressure, epinephrine, and glucose levels, as well as increasing glucose tolerance. And how ’bout this? Laughter assists in the recovery and prevention of cancer by increasing natural killer cell activity, the response of gamma interferon and T cells, and it amps-up the defense against respiratory infections.
And, of course, humor and laughter generate the discharge of endorphins, encouraging calm and euphoria.
Oh, almost forgot. Laughter releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF supports existing neurons and promotes the growth of new neurons and synapses. So this is about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. For mood and anxiety disorder sufferers, both are powerful and hopeful.
But Then, the Emotional/Mental Bennies
Okay, have you ever heard of laughter yoga? Indeed, to achieve positive psychological outcomes, the practice encourages participants to mimic the act of laughing. And it works, as significant improvement in positive emotions and reductions in the severity of stress and anxiety symptoms have been noted.
Dr. Khajuria even presents an interesting discussion of Sigmund Freud’s views on humor. According to Khajuria, Freud suggested humor may be the highest of the psyche’s defense processes. And Khajuria goes on to submit that humor can have a place in individual and group therapy for a variety of mood and anxiety disorders.
Hey, how ’bout a personal example? I was feeling especially wound-up last night. You know the drill, so much going-on throughout the day and then a hard time dimming the lights on the old gray matter. Sure, I was moody and anxious.
So what did I do? I grabbed my phone and opened the YouTube app looking for comic relief. In short order I came upon a clip from the UK game show The Chase, with Bradley Walsh. I laughed ’til I cried. And, dang, I’ll bet I watched it at least a dozen times. Even shared it with my daughter.
The result? I chilled, and hit the sack.
That’ll Do It
So I’ll ask you again? When was the last time you had a belly-jiggling, eye-watering laugh? If it’s been way too long, you’re missing-out on so much relief. Give it a go, okay? I mean, there’s plenty of funny material waiting for you.
One of the basics, laughter – the best medicine…
Be sure to read Dr. Khajuria’s article, as you’ll find more details and some really good references.
And then, of course, the hundreds of Chipur mood and anxiety disorder-related articles.