by James Rada, Jr.

It isn’t difficult to think of reasons to be stressed out in 2020. A global pandemic, polarizing politics, social revolutions, natural disasters, a volatile economy — this year has tested us. It may seem counterintuitive to laugh in the face of all the chaos, but experts suggest that humor could go a long way in helping to reduce the mental and physical stress of tough times. It turns out that the saying “Laughter is the best medicine” has some truth to it, and there is a long history linking humor to good health.

According to “Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review,” a 2017 article in the journal Advances in Physiology Education, experts have considered laughing to be a part of good physical and mental health for centuries. For example, ancient Greek physicians prescribed a visit to the “hall of comedians” as an important part of the healing process. Native Americans turned to humor and laughter for healing as traditional medicine men incorporated the services of clowns to inspire laughter.

The article goes on to say that in the 14th century, a French surgeon who used humor to distract patients from pain during surgery and as a therapy to aid recovery wrote, “Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient’s life for joy and happiness allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him and by having someone tell him jokes.”

The article continues that in England, Robert Burton used humor to treat psychiatric disorders in the 16th century. And in Germany, Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation, also used humor in his pastoral counseling. Luther prescribed friends, jokes and laughter, according to the article. And experts continue to promote laughter for good health today. “It helps the physical, mental, and emotional, all of it combined,” said Dr. Lucas Couch with Carroll Health Group Primary Care.

“I personally laugh every session,” said Emma Davis, a counselor with Path to Peace Wellness in Westminster. “It releases endorphins in the brain and decreases your blood pressure.”

Laughter’s benefits

Endorphins not only make you feel better, they can even relieve pain temporarily. When you get a runner’s high, enjoy sex, feel taken away when you listen to music, or enjoy chocolate, it’s because your body has released endorphins. And one of the physical triggers that releases endorphins is laughter, according to a Mayo Clinic article.

Laughter’s benefits don’t stop there. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing stimulates organs and increases blood flow, which helps improve your cardiovascular system. A good spontaneous chuckle can also aid muscle relaxation, which helps to soothe the physical symptoms of stress.

Experts even suggest that laughing can have long-term effects. The Mayo Clinic reports that laughing can improve your immune system. Negative thoughts can trigger chemical reactions that stress your system and decrease immunity. Conversely, positive thoughts can release neuropeptides, which help fight stress and reduce the risk of serious illnesses. While laughter increases the amount of endorphins in your body, it decreases stress hormones. Couch said it is hard to quantify the benefits in research, but he added, “Chronic disease is highly associated with depression.”

Davis said she tries to incorporate humor into her client sessions because of the benefits laughter brings. It lightens the mood of sessions, releases stress, and helps her clients see that everything is not negative.

“It breaks up negative attitudes and helps them find joy,” Davis said.

Finding laughter

An article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggests that laughter and humor are two different things — “humor” refers to the stimulus, such as a joke, which evokes a response; and “laughter” refers to a physical reaction characterized by vocal sounds, facial expressions and contraction of various muscle groups.

Experts in both mental and physical health agree that finding regular doses of both can improve overall well-being. You’ll do yourself a favor by making laughing a part of your daily routine. Watch a funny video, read a humorous story, and look at the world through the eyes of a child. Make it part of your daily routine. Davis recommends finding three things every day that “make you chuckle.”

The first place to look for humor is with yourself and your life. Learn to laugh at yourself. Davis said doing so makes it easier for you to accept yourself. She tries to show her clients this by not being afraid to laugh at herself and her mistakes.

Look for the humor around you. Life is full of things that, even if they don’t bring forth belly-busting guffaws, will at least make you smile. One way you can find humor is to surround yourself with it. Hang a funny poster on your office wall or keep an amusing toy on your desk. Don’t feel guilty spending a few minutes a day watching funny TikTok videos or video montages of cats doing crazy things.

When you hear something funny, write it down. Writing the humorous incident down not only helps you remember it, but it gives you something to look at if you need a laugh or chuckle during a bad day.

Don’t dwell on the negative. The world has plenty of negative things to inundate you with. If you focus on the bad news, you will start to see life that way. It will weigh you down. It’s as unhealthy as laughter is healthy. And as with other types of exercise, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Find a way to work laughter into your day, every day.

Carroll Countians took to Facebook to share what makes them laugh.

“The crazy things our horses do make me laugh out loud. Their personalities all so different.” – Cathy Kinney Giordano

“I look in the mirror each morning and get a good chuckle. You know the saying … ‘If you can’t laugh at yourself, you miss out on a lot of laughs’”– Joey Mollica

“My hubby! His sense of humor through all the ups and downs, especially during these times, is pure awesomeness! I am his biggest fan!”– Serina Kelly

“80s comedies movies before life got so crazy.”– Lorraine Gunning

“Work in a bar. All we do is laugh.” – Linda Tyers Biddle

“Me, when I do something stupid.” – Eileen Mayne