Have a hearty laugh daily to beat back stress

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By Bryan E. Robinson

Truth be told, a mind that employs humour, amusement, and lightheartedness contributes more to your well-being.

We live in serious times. And if you’re like many people, it’s hard to find a place for humour while social distancing and quarantining. During these challenging times, many people have trouble letting go, clicking their heels and enjoying themselves. Could you be one of the legions who wants to participate in the fun and celebrations but can’t muster the mojo?

Science shows that dwelling on worry, disappointment, and loss only increases unpleasant feelings. What you focus on expands; paying attention to what’s missing only keeps you stuck in a place of lack. You’re familiar with the old adage, “Misery loves company.” If you’re like most people, you focus on the hardships instead of turning the channel and focusing on something that tickles your funny bone. You become the recipient of your own frustration and rage or joy and elation. The medicinal benefits of laughter have been under reported and underrated, despite the fact that you’ve probably also heard the old saying that humour is good medicine.

During a camping weekend, some friends and I stopped at a Dairy Queen, sat around eating ice cream and exchanging stories. One person told a tale so funny that the group broke into uncontrollable laughter. The snickering and chuckling continued for well over five minutes. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t stop giggling. After 10 minutes, we were no longer laughing at the joke but at the fact that we couldn’t stop laughing. Tears streamed down our faces. Our sides hurt. Our laughter was so contagious other patrons started laughing along with us, even though they didn’t know why. Employees peered from the back to see what the ruckus was about. They, too, bent double laughing. By the time we left, the entire establishment was rollicking with sidesplitting laughter. As we drove away, we left a small army of people holding their chests and wiping away tears. The laughter made us feel more connected to life than ever before. In that moment, laughter shook off all personal worries and concerns and everything that troubled our minds and hearts-everything that kept us from fully living in the present moment.

You know you feel better within seconds after a hearty laugh. Why? Because laughter reverses hormonal changes brought on by cortisol and other stress-related chemicals. It activates the secretion of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine – the body’s natural painkillers – and you feel better in minutes. Scientists say that laughter gives your body some of the same benefits as moderate physical exercise. Studies show that laughing – even fake laughing – for just one minute a day dampens stress, eases pain, lowers blood pressure, stokes your immune system, and brightens your mental outlook.

The same is true with smiling. Facial expression influences your emotions by triggering specific neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers. When you frown, you feel bad not just because it reflects how you feel, but the facial expression contributes to how you feel. In the same way, a smile makes you feel happier. Pasting a smile on your face-even if you’re not feeling it at first-raises your mood and reduces stress. Studies show that when people’s ability to frown is compromised by cosmetic Botox injections, they’re happier than people who can frown.

Too many of us take daily challenges with grim, crippling seriousness and humorless determination thinking our lives have to be all work and no play, which can straitjacket us. If you’re like many people, you believe you must toil and sweat before earning the right to have fun. You might even feel guilty laughing and smiling during hard times or if you feel like you haven’t earned it, met a deadline, or completed that email. This crippling approach doesn’t prepare you for a better life, make self-distancing and quarantining easier, or make your work anymore satisfying or effective. Truth be told, a mind that employs humour, amusement, and lightheartedness contributes more to your well-being.

Stress management and depression prevention are laughing matters. The potential for looking at the humorous side of life is all around you. Learn to laugh at yourself, tell a joke, try to remember funny experiences you’ve had, watch a comedy movie, or check out a stand-up comic. Or practice laughter yoga: Ha ha ha-Ho ho ho- He he he! Your Rx for a happy day and a healthier, longer life is one or more big belly laughs per day. —Psychology Today

{Bryan Robinson is a professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte}

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