Does Laughter Reduce Stress?

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We know a good laugh certainly doesn’t hurt, but does it provide relief in times of stress?  What research supports that …

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We know a good laugh certainly doesn’t hurt, but does it provide relief in times of stress?  What research supports that a good chuckle induces actual positive short and long term effects on the body and mind?  Can having a good bout of laughter do more than just reduce stress? Documented evidence must be examined to find the answers.

Gelotology takes root from the Greek word gelos, meaning laughter.  It is the study of laughter and its effects on the body from a psychological and physiological perspective. Through studies laughter has been implicated in improving the health of the heart and muscles, and it may even increase tolerance for pain.

In an article by Psychology Today laughter is described as a full-cortex experience with a wide range of psychological and physiological effects.  In neurological studies it is apparent that the brain stem plays a role in laughter. For instance, infants laugh when tickled implying the primitive brain.  However, laughing in response to something humorous requires higher brain functions.

One brain study in humor research observed the electrical activity that occurs as we laugh. Peter Derks, professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary reported that about a half a second before we laugh a wave of electricity sweeps through and carpets our entire cerebral cortex rather than just one region.  This suggests that most of our higher brain may play a role in laughter.  Another effect that suggests that laughter is a full-cortex experience is the effects it has on us psychologically and physiologically. Perhaps the most obvious effect of laughter is on our mood. After all, with even the most intellectual brands of humor, laughter is ultimately an expression of emotions like joy, surprise and amusement.

According to research by psychologists Herbert Lefcourt and Rod Martin, Ph.D. stressed-out folks with a strong sense of humor become less depressed and anxious than those whose sense of humor is less well developed. They found that students who used humor as a coping mechanism were more likely to be in a positive mood.  In addition to its biological effects, laughter may also improve our mood through social means. By psychologically connecting us to others, laughter counteracts feelings of alienation which is a major feature in depression.

According to Mayo Clinic laughter can have both short and long term benefits for those who are experiencing stress. The possible short-term effects of enjoying a giggle are the physical changes that are induced in your body. Laughter quickly enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air into your body.  This stimulates your lungs, heart and muscles while increasing the endorphins released by your brain. Laughter also relieves your stress because it ignites, then cools down your stress response increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. The effect is a good and relaxed feeling. Another short term effect of laughter is the reduction in some of the physical symptoms of stress like tension by aiding muscle relaxation through increased circulation.

The possible long-term effects of incorporating more humor in your daily life may surprise you.  Laughter can actually ease pain by causing the body to make its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. Another long-term effect of humor is improved mood. Humor helps you connect with other people and makes it easier to cope with difficult circumstances. Laughing more often can improve your mood by making you feel happier lessening any depression or anxiety.

According to an article written by Web MD, it is critical to note that laughter is not a substitute for any medication or treatment. Even though laughter among cultures is universal, its purpose and processes are not yet fully understood.  One of the biggest problems with laughter research is that it’s very difficult to determine cause and effect. However, we all know that laughing with friends and family can make us feel better and give us a boost, even if studies may not show exactly why. All of us could use a little more laughter in our lives, considering how beneficial a good laugh can actually be.

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