Knock Knock. Who's There? Humor Therapy
What did the mayonnaise say when someone opened the refrigerator door? Close that! I’m dressing.
We’ve all heard the warnings about negative emotions: Stress can sap your immune system. Anger can lead to heart trouble. Depression can slow your recovery from illness. But how often do you hear the flip side of the story?
Research shows that positive emotions, including humor, can help your body fend off disease. For caretakers tasked with their own well-being and the well-being of someone else, proactive stress management is critical.
The best medicine
A Loma Linda University School of Medicine study found that people who watched a funny hour-long video experienced a significant drop in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to contribute to both depression and heart disease. Other studies suggest that the simple act of laughing can enhance breathing, improve circulation, and even stimulate T-cells, which regulate the immune response.
In addition to preventing disease, humor can effectively ease pain. Laughing unleashes natural painkillers known as endorphins, and watching a couple hours of Office reruns or a Will Ferrell movie allows the mind to relax and focus on something other than pain.
In 2005, scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine also found that humor may be tied to the healthy function of blood vessels. Laughter causes the tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels, known as the endothelium, to dilate in order to increase blood flow, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The same researchers found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
At the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.
Not everything is a laughing matter
Unfortunately, some illnesses are so severe that even the most positive emotions won’t be able to restore health. The American Cancer Society points out that scientific evidence does not support claims that laughter can cure cancer.
And just because humor is healthy doesn’t mean you should completely brush aside sadness. It’s healthy to cry now and then, and multiple studies have found that brief periods of sorrow stimulate the immune system in addition to helping you process your emotions.
In a nutshell, keep an open mind and an optimistic attitude, but stay in touch with what you’re really feeling. And remember: Even if a cure is beyond reach, a joyful mind isn’t.
Having written for companies ranging from MTV to the Olympics, Valerie Henderson spearheads Carewell's communications and PR efforts. A resident of Park City, Utah, Valerie enjoys four of the things her region is famous for: hiking, independent film, a house full of kids, and weak beer.