Laughter has a positive psychological and physiological effect. First, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air while also stimulating your lungs, heart, and muscles. Likewise, this act of joy manipulates the regulation of neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones. In a roundabout way, these physical and chemical actions work with one another to improve blood pressure and ultimately create a feeling of solace.
To understand how it works as a form of therapeutic alleviation, let's start with the immediate changes we can identify. As we laugh, our core or abdominal muscles flex. This small burst of energy acts as an anatomic trigger. An exuberant laugh fires up and then cools down your physical stress response by increasing then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. This stimulation of circulation soothes muscle tension, leaving a feeling of relaxation that can be enjoyed for up to 45 minutes after. As the amount of oxygen in your blood increase, your vascular function improves. (Enhanced cardiac health will decrease the risk of heart attacks.)
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can weaken your immune system. By contrast, positive thoughts induced by laughing can strengthen immunity. Neuropeptides that regulate anxiety and emotional behaviors release into the forebrain limbic and brain stem areas. One such neuropeptide, endorphins, neutralizes stress hormones resulting in lower blood pressure and trigger an analgesic effect. Stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, decrease while immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies increase, which improves your resistance to diseases. Laughter also activates dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitter and hormone associated with pleasure and mood.
There is a clear link between laughter and mental health. Because it targets the brain regions that regulate emotion, shared laughter is a catalyst for closer connections. You'll notice that most laughter doesn't come from simply hearing a joke, rather it's most enjoyed when spending time with family and friends. This process of engagement rebalances the nervous system and gives your stress response a break.
The aforementioned bond is particularly beneficial today. With the pandemic still affecting the world, we are neglecting a palliative remedy to ongoing stresses. Which, in turn, only adds to the psychological unrest of society's governing politics. Laughter helps by shifting perspective, allowing us to step away from hysteria and see conditions more clearly. This renewed realistic viewpoint places our circumstances in a less threatening light. It's a way of creating a psychological distance that helps us avoid feeling overwhelmed to better diffuse conflict.
An example of this might be waking up on your birthday during the COVID pandemic and leaving for work that morning, only to find a parking citation on your car windshield. It's easy to let a ticket disappoint you, but you can also choose to turn a situation into an opportunity for humor. Instead of determining that it's going to be a lousy day, you might find it more beneficial to laugh it off and say, "Would you look at that? The police department decided to give me a gift three hours into my birthday to start my morning. Awesome, I can't wait to see where this day goes!"
Speaking of life's absurdities, spend some time chatting with fun people in your life. Call up that friend that finds the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view should spark a laugh, or at the very least, a smile. You can even strike up a conversation with, "What's the funniest thing that happened to you today (this week, in your life)?" or try, "Have you heard of Laughter Yoga?" (Yes, Laughter Yoga is a thing that people do).
Create opportunities to Laugh:
- Seek out funny people
- Watch a funny movie, TV show, Stand-Up Comedy, or YouTube Video
- Have a game night or Karaoke with the family
- Play with a pet
- Prank your children or do something silly with them
- Choose a computer screen saver or desktop that makes you laugh
- Follow a funny profile on your social media to get a daily dose of laughs