We’ve all heard the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine,” but can laughter affect our mental health?
You’ll be surprised to know laughter has several therapeutic benefits with effects you can feel almost instantly. From releasing endorphins and relieving stress responses to soothing muscle tension, laughter does make a powerful form of medicine.
As you laugh along to your favorite funny movie or a joke your friend made, you’ll experience how humor and mental health go hand in hand. We’ll discuss the cognitive benefits of laughter below and help you harness the power of laughter for your well-being.
5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter
Whether you’re cracking up with friends or giggling along to your favorite sitcom, you’ll appreciate several short- and long-term benefits of laughter, including:
1. Reduces Stress
Laughter makes an excellent form of stress relief you can feel almost instantaneously. When you laugh, your stress response is cooled while your heart rate and blood pressure increase and then decrease. The result is a relaxed feeling that can take care of immediate stress and make you feel better.
By improving the function of your blood vessels and increasing blood flow, laughter can help protect you from a heart attack and other cardiovascular issues. It also decreases stress hormones while increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving your body’s disease resistance.
2. Improves Your Mood
Laughter increases your brain’s release of endorphins and can alter dopamine and serotonin activity. These natural feel-good chemicals improve your overall sense of happiness and temporarily relieve physical pain. By laughing more, you can lessen stress, depression and anxiety and improve your mindset.
This natural mood booster can increase your energy and help you stay focused. This way, you can accomplish more and achieve a better sense of well-being every time you laugh. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, laughter releases chemicals that reduce stress, boosting your immune system and helping you live longer.
3. Soothes Tension
Laughter soothes tension in the body and can provide instant relief in tense situations. Since it relaxes the muscles and stimulates circulation, a good hearty laugh can make your muscles feel relaxed for up to 45 minutes. Therefore, laughter can reduce physical symptoms of stress and provide relief in stressful situations.
You won’t feel anxious, angry or upset when you’re laughing, and you can also create psychological distance from threatening situations. You can feel less overwhelmed and better equipped to diffuse conflict through laughter.
4. Improves Self Esteem
It feels good to make people happy. When we crack jokes and notice the smiles on our loved ones’ faces, it can bring personal satisfaction and boost our self-esteem. Since laughter creates endorphins and helps people who are depressed or uncomfortable feel better, the ability to calm an entire room with humor and laughter is a true gift.
5. Strengthens Relationships
There’s a reason TV sitcoms use laugh tracks — laughter is contagious. You’re more likely to laugh around others than when you’re alone. The more you laugh, the happier you and everyone around you will feel. Drawing people closer to you can profoundly affect your mental and emotional health. Laughter can unite people in tough times while strengthening resilience and quelling disagreements.
By engaging with those around you and sharing a laugh, you can rebalance your nervous system and stop stress responses in your body. You’ll feel more positive and relaxed overall while having a better ability to handle stressful situations. Humor and playfulness introduce positivity and foster emotional connection. You’ll keep your relationships fresh and fun and build lasting emotional bonds with others by sharing laughter.
How to Introduce More Laughter Into Your Life
Maybe you haven’t been laughing as much as you’d like lately, or laughter isn’t really a natural part of your everyday routine. The good news is you can learn to laugh more. You can quickly seek out humor and build relationships with others through the power of laughter. Soon, it’ll work its way into every aspect of your life as you achieve more positivity and happiness.
Here are some ways to start:
Laughter starts with a smile, and like laughter, smiling is contagious. Practice smiling more when you see something pleasing or meet up with people. Clear your mind of stressful thoughts and smile at the people you pass in the street or the person serving you morning coffee. You’ll quickly notice the effect a smile has on others.
2. Make a List of Positives
Make a list of the positive aspects of your life to distance yourself from negative thoughts that can block out humor and laughter. If you find yourself in a depressed or sad state, you’ll want to collect all of the good things in your life onto paper so that you can reflect and invite more happiness and humor into your life.
3. Move Toward Laughter
When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask for context. People are often happy to share silly stories with others because it means they’ll get to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. Even if you don’t find a joke funny, laughing at it can make you and the other person feel good and draw you closer together. Bring your humor into the conversation by sharing silly stories from the week and asking for others to share theirs.
Other opportunities for laughter include:
- Watch a funny movie, TV show or YouTube video.
- Browse your bookstore’s comedy section.
- Listen to funny podcasts.
- Read comic strips.
- Host game night with friends or family.
- Play with a pet.
- Invite friends or co-workers to a comedy club.
- Make time for fun activities like mini-golf, karaoke or bowling.
4. Stimulate Laughter
Believe it or not, it’s possible to laugh without experiencing a humorous event, and simulated laughter can be just as beneficial as the real thing. Hearing others laugh, even for no apparent reason, can produce genuine laughter.
You can even find laughter therapy groups or laughter yoga to help strengthen that funny bone and bring more laughter into your life. In laughter yoga, you’ll meet with a group of people to laugh. While forced at first, it can quickly become spontaneous, making laughter therapy a clinically-proven way to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Now that you understand the physical and mental benefits of laughter, give it a try. Start with a smile and then work your way up to a laugh, even if it feels forced. Discover its positive effects and share your emotions with those around you to create lasting, healthy relationships.
Though it may come easy to some, others might need additional help to laugh and achieve a better sense of well-being. If this sounds like you, Taylor Counseling Group is here to help. Our professionally-trained counselors can help you navigate challenging times by providing you with the quality care you deserve.
To learn more about our services, contact us today.