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.
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!
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.
According to researchers, laughter has multiple purposes:
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.
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.
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.