Heightened tension triggers a cascade of stress hormones that magnifies your physical and mental health risks — from your ability to regulate emotions to sleeping and eating problems to lower immune function.
The effects are cumulative. Repeated activation of your stress response contributes to high blood pressure and promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits with increased risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, it takes a toll causing brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression and addiction.
During this time, everyone is being encouraged to be vigilant in practicing techniques to counter stress and tension. I want to provide a great, simple, scientifically-proven prescription for helping to counter tension: Try a little laughter!
Health benefits of laughter
The power of laughter goes beyond the pleasure and joy of a spontaneous, gleeful outburst. Laughter changes people. Its benefits help to heal emotional and psychological difficulties, eases physical ailments and pains while building immunity and mental sharpness. And there’s more! Belly laughs have been shown to reduce the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, and increase the body’s production/uptake of feel-good endorphins.
While the brain mechanisms behind laughing remain a mystery, what the science and medical health community underscores is that laughter affects the body and mind, positively.
• Boosts your immune system: Giggles, laughter and good humor strengthen your body’s defense against germs, increasing the number of antibody-producing cells (surveillance proteins for foreign invaders) and other immune system cells. And, yes, it is a fact that stress weakens your immune system but physically, laughter can put a damper on the production of stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. And by doing so, it can help us to relax.
• Decreases blood pressure: Laughing releases nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and helps to decrease clotting. It can also protect the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing formation of cholesterol plaques. At the same time, it increases blood flow to organs, which helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
• Soothes tension and keeps spirits up: Those ha-ha moments ignite, then cool down your heart which provides you with a relaxed feeling from increasing, then decreasing your heart rate. This also reduces some of the physical symptoms of stress. And, in the midst of challenging times, laughing helps to bring back a sense of normalcy.
• Stimulates many organs: It enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles while increasing those endorphins released by your brain, relieving stress.
• Cognitive benefits: Chuckles from losing a parking space to watching a funny video have been tied to improvements in short-term memory and an increased capacity to learn and focus.
• Laughter is contagious: The saying, “laugh, and the whole world laughs with you” is more than just an expression. It really is contagious. From babies to adults, laughter promotes person-to-person bonding and is typically recognized as social signals of goodwill and friendship with the power of bringing people together.
• Staying power with great benefits: These positive responses happen quickly and have staying power. Studies have shown laughable, giggling moments can relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes after. Psychologically, it encourages a better perspective by experiencing life in a “less threatening light.”
• Pain relief: It can literally relieve pain by stimulating your body to produce endorphins — natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. The best part is there are no known side effects.
Try this at home
Here are ways to boost your mood and promote laughing:
• Set the intent to laugh more. Make it a priority. Watch a favorite, funny scene or comedy clip. Subscribe to a daily silly email (cat videos anyone?). Savor giggling time. Radcliff