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Laugh it Up

Marcey Shapiro, MD

Marcey Shapiro, MD

“I love to laugh, ha-ha ha-ha!”
—Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins

Laughter is a magical elixir of well-being. You cannot continue to feel anxious, depressed, irritated, or any other number of unpleasant emotions, while you are laughing. Laughter dissolves away anger, frustration, and worry. It helps us deal with life’s challenges, allowing us to take ourselves and our current experiences less seriously. Laughter helps us take a fresh look at a situation, allowing more perspective and a new, more lighthearted understanding of our condition. It boosts our sense of well-being.

When there is a stressor, laughter can be cathartic, allowing a harmless release of emotion. During protracted difficult times, laughter can provide courage, comfort, and may even restore hope. The playful, whimsical energy of laughter can assist with release of painful memories. Laughter is also empowering. It is hard to feel helpless when one is laughing. Instead, it encourages a sense of optimism and a feeling that all is not lost.

Research on laughter has demonstrated that it can decrease our sense of physical pain, increasing the release of endorphins. Endorphins are our own internal opiates, so laughter is a potent pain reliever. Endorphins are also keys to immune function, so not surprisingly, it has been found that laughter enhances immune function. In addition, laughter has also been shown to increase levels of human growth hormone, another important immune system strengthener.

It certainly decreases emotional pain as well. Laughter increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter of happiness and relaxation, and decreases levels of the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Physiologically, laughter has many other benefits. It lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of heart disease. The shaking from laughter provides a gentle internal massage for all the organs and cells, enhancing the flow of lymph and sup- porting gentle detoxification. Laughter also aids sleep and can improve physical and emotional energy.

Studies have shown that children laugh around three hundred fifty times per day, but adults laugh an average of only fifteen times per day. Children look at life as a game, usually approaching challenges by trying to have fun with them. Adults do well to mimic their attitude.

No wonder there is a yoga of laughter, which teaches people to laugh for no reason at all. Psychologically, laughter helps improve optimism, self-confidence, resiliency, and hopefulness. It is good as a temporary coping mechanism as well as an oasis of joy during difficulties, even when there is chronic pain.

Excerpted from Freedom From Anxiety: A Holistic Approach to Emotional Well Being by Marcey Shapiro, MD, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2014 by Marcey Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

Stay tuned for more thoughts from Marcey Shapiro, MD,  on “Transforming Health” and Heart Centered Living

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