Laughter provides more than physical 'medicine' - By Michael J. Tobin - Aug 20, 2011
“Laughter is the best medicine” doesn't just mean feeling better, according to regional experts on the subject.
The ability to laugh, play and have fun with others not only makes life more enjoyable – it also helps you solve problems, connect with others, and be more creative, according to mental health specialists. People who incorporate humor and play into their daily lives find that it renews them and all of their relationships, they say.
"Humor is infectious," New Hampshire therapist Patricia Pinkham said. "The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy."
Pinkham added, "In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free and easy to use."
"Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh," said Dr. Joseph Mason, "Life brings challenges that can either get the best of you or become playthings for your body. When you 'become the problem' and take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions — a huge stress on the body. But when you play with the problem, you can often transform it into an opportunity for creative learning and physical rebirth."
Therapist Pinkham added, "Playing with problems seems to come naturally to children. When they are confused or afraid, they make their problems into a game, giving them a sense of control and an opportunity to experiment with new solutions. Interacting with others in playful ways helps you retain this creative ability."
Dr. Mason stated that there are many therapeutic benefits of laughter:
• Muscle relaxation. Belly laughs result in muscle relaxation. When you laugh, the muscles involved in the belly laugh motion first contract, then relax, increasing circulation through the musculature.
• Increase in pain threshold. During laughter and for a short period of time afterward, pain is minimized. Part of this effect may be because of “distraction,” a technique used to control pain. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, which may be considered to be one of the body’s natural painkillers.
• Cardiac exercise. A belly laugh is comparable to “jogging internally.” It increases the activity of the heart and stimulates circulation. Additionally, after the laughter subsides, the cardiovascular system goes into a state of relaxation.
• Respiratory system exercise. Repeated belly laughter makes you exhale more than inhale, resulting in a lung-cleansing effect.
When we laugh, the brain pressures us to simultaneously make gestures and sounds. Fifteen facial muscles contract, the larynx becomes half-closed so that we breathe irregularly, which can makes us gasp for air, and sometimes, the tear ducts become activated, experts say. Nerves sent to the brain trigger electrical impulses to set off chemical reactions. These reactions release natural tranquilizers, pain relievers and endorphins.
"But, laughter can help us on other levels other than our physical well-being," added Pinkham, "Laughter is a universal language, after all. It is communicated on every surface of the planet by every person. Laughter is a very socially unifying trait. It brings people together and makes them feel part of something larger than themselves. Even if one doesn’t share the same views as others, often a hearty laugh can ease tension, break down barriers and restore balance to an otherwise tension filled situation. Laughter fights loneliness as its aim is to bring people together not make them feel isolated and alone."