It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. While this old adage may seem trite, science says there might be some truth to it. In a time where there’s plenty to be stressed about, experts say having a good sense of humor and finding moments of levity in a bad situation can help us cope and become more resilient.
“People are dealing with chronic anxiety and stress now more than ever,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The LHSFNA aims to help members and their families find healthy, realistic ways to cope. Humor isn’t just a distraction from stress, it’s a way to stay healthy in spite of it.”
Chronic stress is one of our greatest enemies when it comes to health and wellness; it’s linked to a number of health problems such as depression, obesity, sleep disorders, heart disease, muscle tension and pain, gastrointestinal issues and diabetes. We can become stressed in response to certain circumstances – like losing a valuable item, starting a new job or experiencing tension in our relationships. We might feel physically tense, anxious or restless, irritable or unable to focus. There are many different methods to cope with stress, but some may feel intimidating or time consuming (like exercise or meditation). However, humor can be a powerful antidote that’s right at our disposal.
How Humor Can Help
Laughter is a scientifically proven stress reliever. When we laugh, our body releases endorphins that help reduce stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), relieve pain, improve our mood and increase our overall feeling of well-being. Laughing also triggers the release of nitric oxide in our bodies, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and decreases clotting. Studies have shown that those who laugh more have an overall lower risk of major cardiovascular illness.
While the physical act of laughing can make you feel more relaxed and provide momentary relief from stress, some argue that the cognitive practice of humor can have a much greater impact. Learning to identify what’s funny or ironic about an otherwise mundane or stressful situation, Columbia University psychology professor George Bonanno explains, allows us to create distance from a distressing situation, lessen negative feelings and maintain a positive attitude. In other words, humor can help us achieve a healthy emotional distance from our stressors and give us a sense of control over them.
“Possessing a sense of humor helps people remain resilient in the face of adverse circumstances,” Bonanno said. “Humor keeps negative emotions in check and gives us a different perspective, allowing us to see some of the bad things that happen to us as a challenge rather than a threat.”
How to Train Your Humor Muscle
Luckily, we’re all born with the capacity for humor and even if you’re a little out of practice, there are ways to cultivate your sense of humor every day.
- Keep a humor journal. Try taking a few minutes each day to write down three things you found amusing. Doing this can help train your brain to seek out the humor and novelty in life.
- Try laughter yoga. Laughter yoga uses a series of movement and breathing exercises to promote deliberate laughter. Proponents claim just 10 to 15 minutes of laughter yoga per day can lift mood, reduce stress, strengthen your immune system and increase energy.
- Keep fun close at hand. Find some things that reliably make you laugh (think TV show clips, photos, videos, comic strips, etc.) and collect them somewhere you can see or easily access them when you need a boost.
- Try a reframing exercise. There are several ways to use reframing in your life. One example is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to help see your situation in a different light and find a level of amusement in it. Or let your mind wander to an extreme outcome of a situation and laugh at its absurdity. For example, if you’re stuck in a long line, you might think about what would happen if you were stuck for hours, days, months or years. Maybe your loved ones would have to come to visit you on your deathbed in line.
Humor is also one of the best ways to bond and forge connections with others. However, humor can be harmful when used to put people down or laugh at someone else’s expense. It’s important to remember that everyone experiences stress or hardship at some point in their lives, and feeling upset is completely normal. Humor shouldn’t be used to trivialize your worries or anyone else’s, but instead as a tool to help you lead a happy life.