The healing power of humour
Is your sense of humour ironic? Dry? Whatever you find funny, keep laughing - humour and laughter are healing and have amazing health benefits.
Is your sense of humour ironic? Dry? Black? Blue? Whatever you find funny, keep laughing—the benefits of humour extend to both body and mind.
A 2008 Canadian study published in The Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing found that integrating humour into a health-care setting had significant results. Overall tensions relaxed, and communication and co-operation benefited. Why not try to duplicate these findings tonight?
Share a laugh with someone and connect. Better yet, just start thinking about laughing and notice what happens. Amazingly, it's not just humour that lessens tension, but merely anticipating laughter. Research presented at the 121st Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society in 2008 showed that anticipating watching a comedy decreased the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac by 39, 70, and 38 percent respectively.
If after your ha-ha fest you feel renewed closeness with your movie buddy, don't report your findings to the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH). They already know. They state that in addition to raising self-esteem and promoting overall psychological well-being, humour "builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness."
AATH reports that humour's companion mood boost has the power to fight depression, build hope, boost energy, and strengthen both problem-solving and creative thinking.
Immune to stress
The same process that causes you to relax while waiting for a laugh also builds immunity. A study by the American Physiological Society also detected heightened levels of immunity-boosting HGH (human growth hormone) in participants. Other studies have also connected laughter with enhanced immunity. A review of information published in the 2005 Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing found that in addition to having a "positive effect on the immune system," humour's additional benefits included relaxation and increased pain tolerance. The review concluded by stating, "Humour can be an effective intervention that impacts the health and well-being of patients with cancer."
As evidence of our intuitive ability to heal ourselves naturally, a 1999 survey of rural Midwest cancer patients revealed that 50 percent were already using humour as a coping mechanism.
Could comedy DVD rentals be the contemporary version of a doctor's house call? Next time we get the flu; why not browse both the comedy flicks and the health store aisles?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disorder, has also been observed to benefit from the stress-busting, immune-boosting power of a good guffaw. In a 2006 study published in the journal Rheumatology participants were divided into three groups: healthy, easy-to-control RA, and difficult-to-control RA. Next they listened to a comical Japanese story called "Rakugo." This resulted in more than laughter; the participants built immunity through altering the pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines that manage immune response. For researchers these results were nothing to snicker at.
"Our findings suggest that mirthful laughter affects the levels of serum pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines differentially, depending on the RA disease activity," the research team said in a statement. "The effects of mirthful laughter might be remarkable, especially in the difficult-to-control RA group, since it is thought that such patients are under much more psychological and physical stress in daily life compared with patients with easily controlled RA."
Blood pressure benefits
High blood pressure, which affects over 4 million Canadians, is also eased by less stress. For a new angle on decreasing blood pressure, just combine laughter with chanting, yogic breathing, playfulness, and body movement. The synergy of this combination is called laughter yoga.
Laughter yoga participants laugh with no comedic stimulus, sustain this laughter for 45 seconds, then take a brief break and repeat the process for 20 to 30 minutes. Participants enjoy hearty benefits.
A study presented at the American Society of Hypertension's 2008 Annual Meeting found that 20 to 30 minutes of laughter yoga over three weeks dropped participants' systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels, along with the stress hormone cortisol. The punchline? Laughter reduces illness-causing stress.
Send in the clowns
"Laughter is the most economical and easy anti-stress measure," says Vancouver-based laughter coach and therapeutic clown, Allan O'Meara. "To reduce stress via other methods, it takes a lot of mental effort to detach oneself from the physical world. To laugh is a natural process, and all the senses naturally and effortlessly combine in a moment of harmony."
How do we include more of this harmony in our lives? Cultivate the same playfulness that laughter yoga encourages, and practise laughter without a cause. "Due to over-seriousness, our sense of humour is getting sick," observes O'Meara. So laugh at comedies, laugh at your surroundings, and definitely laugh at yourself. If others wonder what's so funny, just tell them you're practising your prescription for better health.