By Lise Pilon, RN, CPMHN©
Why did the turkey cross the road? It was the chicken’s day off. If you were able to laugh at this joke, were you able to notice a shift on how you feel? The reason I’m asking is that laughter provides a physical and emotional release.
Stress has been shown to create unhealthy physiological and psychological changes. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, muscle tension, immunosuppression and mental health issues have been known for years. Studies have shown that mirthful laughter affects, if not all, of the major systems of the human body which includes the reduction of stress hormones. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs, and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterwards. The next time you have a good long laugh, notice the feeling of relaxation and reduced tension.
Laughter helps us replace distressing emotions with pleasurable feelings. When laughing, we can be lifted above our feelings of fear, anger, discouragement and despair. One of the things that sap our energy is the time, focus and effort we put into coping with life’s problems. It is not the situations that generate stress and mental health issues; it is the meaning we place on the situation. Humour and laughter reveal that not all things are earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can adjust the meaning of an event so that it is not so overwhelming and, therefore, provide us with opportunities for greater objectivity and insight.
Laughter connects us with others. There are no language barriers when we are smiling and laughing. The smile on our face is a light to tell people our heart is at home. Humour and laughter changes our behaviour because we then tend to talk more and make more eye contact with others. It avoids loneliness.
Some ways to keep ourselves laughing is by watching comedy on television, reading funny greeting cards, comic strips and cartoons, collect stories and seek funny people, to name a few. Some suggest keeping a “Joy Journal,” listing the gifts that come into our life. Studies show the positive effects of smiling occur whether the smile is fake of real. Faked laughter also provides the benefits mentioned above. Furthermore, smiling more and faking laughter may lead to opportunities for real smiles and laughter.
Humour and laughter can be effective self-care tools to cope with stress. They can improve the function of the body, the mind and the spirit. Bringing our sense of humour and laughter to our daily conflicts, our relationships can go a long way toward improving the quality of our life.
For more information or to receive the French version of this article, or to seek professional advice, please call 613-932-9940 or 1-800-465-8061. Free, confidential services are available in French and English to residents of Dundas, Stormont and Glengarry through their offices in Winchester, Cornwall and Alexandria.
Keeping Health in Mind is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of Seaway News and the clinical staff of Tri-County Mental Health Services, a community program of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.
By Lise Pilon, RN, CPMHN©