‘Laughter is the best medicine’

Laughter and crying can ease a stressful experience, by counteracting the effects of cortisol and adrenaline.

Go to the profile of Nicola Vanlint
Feb 27, 2017
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Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. It can create social bonds, improve the immune system, and serve as a coping mechanism in times of stress and uncertainty.

Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter on the Brain

The physiological study of laughter has its own name - Gelotology.

However, understanding what happens in the brain when we laugh remains a work in progress for scientists. Researchers are studying this seemingly simplistic expression in people and other animals to gain deeper insight into human behaviour and its evolution. Laughter is not purely a human phenomenon. Studies show many animals express playful vocalizations during tickling, including apes, dogs, and even rats.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9wM8cY3yFM

A social affair

Research conducted by Dr Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, examines the role of relationships in laughter. His studies of people laughing during shared conversations suggest that laughter has more to do with social relationships than humour. He found that people will laugh thirty times more when there are other people around than when alone.

I have a friend who within 5 minutes of being in her company we will be laughing about nothing in particular. But interestingly I do not find that with all my friends, so is it the connection between us or is she more ‘jolly’ than some?

Dr Provine says "Laughter is not primarily about humour, but about social relationships." Most of what makes people laugh is not thigh-slapping humour but conversational comments.

The motor and reward pathways in the brain are primarily activated when we laugh, the anterior cingulate, a brain region involved in conflict detection, is also engaged when people are presented with something humorous.

This region is not only involved in “getting” jokes but is also essential for “coping with difficult feelings or emotions or even social situations,” explains Scott Weems, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Maryland. “When you meet someone new, you’re going to be uneasy and not sure what to do - these are times when we laugh,” he explains.

This process rings a bell with me; I would quite often laugh when I was in a situation that I felt uncomfortable or nervous. For example; a friend and I every spring would collect all our families old clothes and bits and bobs together to sell at boot sales to raise money for our summer holiday. Whenever we arrived at the sale I would go into fits of giggles and never understood why. I would laugh until I cried; Laughter and crying can ease a stressful experience, by counteracting the effects of cortisol and adrenaline.

Laughing and crying are similar psychological reactions. "Both occur during states of high emotional arousal, involve lingering effects, and don't cleanly turn on and off," says Robert Provine.

I found it interesting to discover there are ten different types of laughter; amused, joyful, sympathetic, polite, relieved, disappointed, embarrassed, stressed, ironic and commenting.

What's Funny?

Laughter is triggered when we find something humorous. There are three traditional theories about what we find humorous:

•The incongruity theory suggests that humour arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together.

•The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. We feel superior to this person, experience a certain detachment from the situation and so are able to laugh at it.

•The relief theory is the basis for a device movie-makers have used effectively for a long time. In action films or thrillers where tension is high, the director uses comic relief at just the right times. He builds up the tension or suspense as much as possible and then breaks it down slightly with a side comment, enabling the viewer to relieve himself of pent-up emotion, just so the movie can build it up again!

Similarly, an actual story or situation creates tension within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and unease. According to Dr Lisa Rosenberg, humour, especially dark humour, can help workers cope with stressful situations. "The act of producing humour, of making a joke, gives us a mental break and increases our objectivity in the face of overwhelming stress," she says.

I have found that many of my colleagues in the field of mental health have ‘Gallows humour’ a term I was unaware of before becoming a psychotherapist.

“First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me” - Steve Martin

Creating opportunities to laugh

One of the best ways to stimulate laughter and it's probably the most ancient way is by tickling. Tickling is inherently social; we can't tickle ourselves. We tickle to get a response or to entice ticklee to turn around and become tickler.

Although personally I do not like being tickled; I feel a sense of powerlessness, which I am aware of its origins; an aunty tickling me when I was a child and not stopping when I asked her to.

•Watch a funny movie or TV show.

•Go to a comedy club.

•Seek out funny people.

•Share a good joke or a funny story.

•Check out your bookshop’s humour section.

•Host game night with friends.

•Play with a pet.

•Go to a “laughter yoga” class.

•Joke around with children.

•Do something silly.

•Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke).

Incorporating more humour and play into your daily interactions can improve the quality of relationships and your connections with co-workers, family members, and friends. Using humour and laughter in relationships allows you to:

• Be more spontaneous. Humour gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.

• Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts.

• Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside.

All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play also adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humour is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

Bring humour into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today, this week, in your life?”

Like yawning, laughter is contagious; the laugher of others is irresistible. I found myself laughing at the below video of ‘People laughing’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVmz88qhUxs

Final word, I have a list of Tommy Cooper one liners on my phone. When I need a lift I read one and giggle to myself.

“I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn’t find any” Hehe!

Go to the profile of Nicola Vanlint

Nicola Vanlint

Psychotherapist / CBT Counsellor / Wellbeing Radio Presenter

Who am I? A constellation of events and experiences which have formed who I am today, just like everybody else. I have experienced emotional imbalance in different forms during my life, one of which was the horror of panic attacks. These encounters lead me to expand my self-awareness, firstly through attending therapy, then through various workshops and years later attaining a qualification in counselling. I have a passion for acquiring and sharing knowledge of how to gain and maintain our psychological wellbeing and increase mental health appreciation. I am far from a journalist, in fact I am dyslexic, which I did not discover until the age of twenty eight. I have learnt to accept and embrace my imperfections. Join me on a voyage of self-awareness and psychological wellbeing, where your thoughts and feelings are very welcome!
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