#12 Laugh Much?

Mar 08, 2015

Illness is no laughing matter. I know from first-hand experience that when confronted with the news of a friend or loved one’s illness, there is a certain uncomfortableness that surrounds the issue when addressing the person for the first time after learning of the news. You’re flooded with uncertainties: What do I do? What do I say? How should I act? Is it ok to smile? Is it too crass to crack a joke? Does this mean that I always have to be sad and serious?  I hate being sad and serious.

My answer to these questions is simple: just be yourself. I learned this lesson a long time ago as a teenager who really didn't like little kids very much.  I was not one for babysitting, although I did it begrudgingly. I was one of the youngest in the family, so I didn't have a lot of experience with little kids.  When little kids came up to talk to me while waiting in line at the grocery store with my mother, I'd roll my eyes and turn the other way.  I didn't know what to say or do. They made me uncomfortable. I was never one for baby talk.  My parents never spoke that way to me, but I noticed many people spoke to their kids that way, so I chose to just ignore little kids as much as possible.

It wasn't until my late teens when I was dating someone who had younger cousins, that I confessed this issue I had with his mom and she so simply said, "Just speak to them the way you'd speak to an adult." Wow.  That was easy.  And from then on, I embraced kids and their questions, and their stories head-on and had a ball.

This experience has transferred over to speaking with friends and loved ones who are not well.  It's the same uncomfortable situation and they haven't changed. They just got some news that may not be so great. Your loved ones want YOU, your true self. They need that now more than ever. They need everything to remain as normal as possible and if there was ever a time to be silly and sarcastic, now is the time!

Having been on the receiving end of some somber and sullen conversations at my bedside, I strongly encourage you to enlighten those who think seriousness and humorlessness are the way to go at such a time. The amount of research that supports humor and healing is exorbitant and I’m excited to share some of it with you in this post. We now know that laughter reduces stress, controls pain, lowers blood pressure, and promotes healing. This is fantastic news!

Steve Wilson is a psychologist, speaker, author, and is the Chairman of The Board of World Laughter Tour, Inc. and USA Laughter Clubs. How awesome is THAT? Did you even know we had laughter clubs in the good old U.S. of A?   There are Laughter Clubs, Laughter Yoga sessions, maps of Community Laughter Clubs around the world, and even sites on how to start your own Community Laughter Club. Steven wrote a fabulous article on Humor & Healing: The Invisible Weapon, back in 1996 (Promise me you’ll read it!). He quotes several of the world’s best minds on the topic and since, boatloads of books and articles have been published supporting the success of humor and healing. For more information visit his website www.stevewilson.com, or www.worldlaughtertour.com, or phone 1-800-669-5233.

Illness is stress stored and trapped in your body; so the more you laugh, the happier your immune system is, and the better job it’s doing to support a happier and healthier you!  Yay! What fun!!  The physiological response produced by mirthful laughter is the opposite of vigilant stress. So why be serious if your goal is to be well?

In addition to what Wilson has to share in his article, Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date, their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. I'm not a researcher or diagnostician.  I'm a reader. I'm someone who wants to live my best life. I will read and listen and learn and share as much as I can in order to play and practice with new and old research if it means working toward the greater good.  Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. So go...Quick! Start laughing....!

The following is a summary of Dr. Berk's research, taken from an interview published in the September/October 1996 issue of the Humor and Health Journal.

Laughter Activates the Immune System

In Berk's study, the physiological response produced by belly laughter was the opposite of what is seen in classical stress, supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress state -- a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.

Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there is a general increase in activity within the immune system, including:

  • An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack virally infected cells and some types of cancer and tumor cells.
  • An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many T cells that await activation. Laughter appears to tell the immune system to "turn it up a notch."
  • An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory tract insults and infections.  (Whenever I'm too serious and stressed, I can count on getting an upper respiratory infection.)
  • An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components of the immune system to "turn on."
  • An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest quantity in the body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The increase in both substances was not only present while subjects watched a humorous video; there was also a lingering effect that continued to show increased levels the next day.

So how will you add humor to your day? I know it's tough to balance it all, the kids, the bills, the house, work, eating healthy, and getting all those glasses of water in. But it’s your health we’re talking about here so maybe:

  • Watch a funny movie
  • Pick something on TV that will make you laugh
  • Read the comics
  • Read books written by humorous authors
  • Download comical podcasts
  • Put the kids in charge of telling you jokes
  • Check out Comedy Warriors online and watch how other champions find ways to laugh in challenging times

I hope this post has helped you to find ways to become a little sillier and to relax a bit more around your friends and loved ones who are not well at this time.  Perhaps it has helped you to help yourself be a bit more silly throughout your own illness if that's what you're going through.  If you are in need of more information on humor and healing, simply search online and you'll get lost reading about all the wonderful research out there to support something so much fun!  Be well and laugh!


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