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Laugh your way to less stress

de-stress laughter stress Apr 25, 2022

When was the last time you were relaxed enough to laugh at something? Not just any laugh, but one of those deep belly laughs that reduced you to tears!


If you are among the many adults who have a hard time relaxing, you’ll be surprised to know that there are real health benefits to laughing, and relieving stress is one of them.


What is laughter?

Laughter is the physiological respo­nse to humour. It is triggered when you find something funny. According to researchers, by the time a child reaches nursery school he or she will laugh about 300 times a day. By the time that child becomes an adult they will only laugh approximately 17 times a day. If that sounds high to you, then you may want to consider the recommendation that adults need a minimum of 30 laughs per day to positively impact their wellbeing.

Michael Miller, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, recommends 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis. So if you needed an excuse to binge watch your favourite comedy show, this may be it!


What happens when you laugh?

When you laugh two things happen; you produce a sound, and you make a set of gestures.


When you laugh, fifteen facial muscles contract and the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip (zygomatic major muscle) is stimulated. Your respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist and often red (or purple).


The noises that usually accompany this bizarre behavior range from sedate giggles to boisterous guffaws. When you laugh heartily, changes occur across your body, even in your arms, legs and trunk muscles.  


Studies also show that the anticipation of laughter is also powerful. Anticipating that you will be laughing uncontrollably reduces the harmful effects of stress hormones. So just knowing you are going to be catching up with a funny colleague or a friend who makes you laugh could be the stress antidote that you need.


What’s the purpose of laughter?

According to researchers, laughter has multiple purposes:

  • Signals relief at the passing of danger,
  • Suggests trust in co-laughers,
  • Provides a bonding mechanism and strengthens human connections,
  • Controls emotional climate and influences behaviours, and  
  • Deflects anger.


When you laugh, your body releases endorphins into the blood system. Endorphins act like natural pain killers and are also responsible for making you feel happy. The best part is that endorphins are free of any side effects – it’s completely natural! That’s why you feel a “natural high” after a good dose of laughter.


We've known for some time that being able to laugh is helpful. Laughter provides a safety valve that shuts off the flow of stress hormones and the fight-or-flight chemicals that are released when we experience stress, anger or hostility. These stress hormones suppress the immune system and reduce our positive outlook on life.


8 Ways laughter lowers stress


  • Releases muscle tension: When you are stressed, your muscles tense up and can cause you to experience tightness. A good laugh is often followed by a short period of relaxation, which can relieve physical tension in the body and relax the muscles for up to 45 minutes.


  • In the moment: Laughter brings you in to the moment. While you are laughing you aren’t not worrying about that upcoming meeting or your uninspiring performance review last week. Laughter provides your brain with a break from the worrying thoughts that cause stress.


  • Improves your mood: Nothing squashes a bad mood quite like a good laugh. Laughing produces a general sense of well-being and can diffuse the anger and hopelessness you were once feeling. It’s also hard to be angry with someone while you are laughing with them.


  • Reduces stress hormones: Cortisol is your primary stress hormone that circulates throughout your body when you’re feeling stressed. Genuine laughter can decrease cortisol levels by increasing your intake of oxygen and stimulating circulation throughout the body.


  • Increases attentiveness and productivity: When your heart rate and pulse is elevated through laughter, you feel more energized. This energy can be just what you need to tackle that seemingly difficult task.


  • Increases endorphins: Endorphins are those “feel-good” chemicals produced by your brain that help boost happiness levels. Laughing increases the number of endorphins released in your body, fighting off stress and promoting a positive mood.


  • Strengthens relationships: A shared laugh with friends, family or a work colleague can help you feel more connected to that person/people and form strong and lasting bonds. Humour is also a powerful way to heal past disagreements or resentments because when you laugh together you generally talk more, make direct eye contact, and possibly even get into closer contact.


  • Form of Exercise: When you throw back your head and laugh, you’re actually working your muscles from the hips to the shoulders. Since laughing involves taking in and releasing of air, the expelling of carbon dioxide and the intake of oxygen, your internal organs and core muscles get a good workout every time you laugh heartily.

Research looking at the benefits of 20 minutes of humour and exercise, found that both had an equally positive impact on psychological distress and positive wellbeing. However, humour had more impact on lowering anxiety than exercise.


Why do I laugh when I am stressed?

Everyday you’re faced with challenges and it’s completely up to you how to deal with them. You can choose a positive attitude or a negative one. Laughing when faced with a challenge can help lift your mood (as well as those around you) and that may be enough for you to look at your challenge from a different perspective. Also laughing is considered contagious and is thought to signal belonging when laughing with others. This could explain why in the face of adversity, you have burst out laughing.


A Laugh a Day…

So the next time you hear someone laughing, you may want to join in. Laughter has many physical and psychological benefits beyond lowering stress levels. Look to include it somewhere in your day. 


If you are finding it hard to laugh when others around you are laughing hysterically, it might be time to talk to someone about that. Book in a confidential call with me where you can explore what it is that could be preventing you from seeing the funny side of your day to day experiences.


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