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The power of laughter

The best medicine for body and mind

Two nuns, a penguin and a man with a parrot on his shoulder walk into a bar. The bartender says, "What is this? Some kind of joke?" Laughter can be a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety – without a prescription and without side effects. Laughter relieves tension, improves our sense of well-being, serves as an outlet for anger and provides a healthy escape from reality.

Research has proven the benefits of laughter for our mental health. In one study, says Faiz Qadri, MD, director of the Creighton University Mood Disorders Clinic, movie-watching patients who watched only comedies for three months had measurably more enhanced positive attitude and social interaction than patients who watched a variety of types of movies. “I recommend to my patients that they watch a comedy every week,” he says.

Laughing man Our brains actually process laughter to produce mood-lifting brain chemicals.

“Laughter causes our body to release a bath of serotonin and other "feel good" chemicals into the blood stream and opens us up to experiencing a situation differently,” says Tian Dayton PhD, author of Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance. “It reduces at least four of the neuroendocrine hormones associated with the stress response: epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone.”

best medicine for body and mind

Good for the mind; good for the body

Laughter is good medicine for our bodies, as well as our minds. By increasing our intake of oxygen, our bodies produce potent chemicals that relax muscles, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure and ease digestion. It’s been found to cause the body to produce natural painkillers. A good belly laugh can provide a cardio workout. Dayton calls it "internal jogging."

How to bring more laughter into your life

  • Surround yourself with humor: Spend time with people who make you laugh. Clip jokes and cartoons and keep them handy at home, at work, even in your car. You may find coworkers dropping by to chuckle with you.
  • Take a little laughter break: Laughter is contagious. Listen to the sounds of others laughing and you’ll find yourself laughing along with them. You can get your own laughter CD from the youth organization Hey, U.G.L.Y.
  • Try Hollywood therapy: Watch movies that make you laugh out loud when you’re feeling down or stressed.
  • Join others for therapeutic laughter at a local laughter club or laughter yoga group. These popular settings for stimulated laughter exercises can be found around the world.
  • Is laughter the best medicine? “I would prescribe five to ten minutes of laughter every eight hours!” says Dr. Qadri, laughing heartily.

Holding up, bouncing back

The Road to Resilience

How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness and other traumatic events are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? It involves resilience.


What Is Resilience?

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats, or even significant sources of stress -- such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.

10 Ways to Build Resilience

  • Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
  • Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  • Move toward your goals. Do something regularly -- even if it seems like a small accomplishment -- that enables you to move toward your goals.
  • Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  • Take care of yourself. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
  • Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
  • The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.