Have you ever had a moment where you’ve said, “I am laughing so much it hurts”? If you have, maybe you should rephrase it to, “I am laughing so much it helps”. Studies show that laughter can be a natural, holistic way to reduce stress levels, yet, as we grow older, research also shows that we are laughing less.
It might sound silly to use laughter as a stress management technique. When we think of stress management, we tend to think of things like taking vacation, sleeping more, exercising, delegating tasks to lessen workloads, not laughter. Think of the last time you laughed; in that moment, were you feeling tense, worried about your to-do list, down in mood? Or were you feeling carefree, relaxed, and happy? Chances are you were thinking about whatever was funny at the time, and your body was relaxed. Improved mood and relaxed muscles are some of the benefits you receive from laughing. Below, we outline several of the other benefits surrounding laughter when it comes to managing stress and provide suggestions for adding more laughter into your life.
Relieves stress response
When we are stressed, cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone in the body, increase. If we are stressed for extended periods of time, those high cortisol levels can create health issues in other areas of the body such as high blood pressure, depression, headaches, and trouble sleeping. Laughing decreases cortisol levels in the body because oxygen intake is increasing and circulating more effectively throughout the body.
Stimulates several organs in the body
Laughing creates a ripple effect of benefits in the body. When we laugh, there is an increased intake of oxygen-rich air in the body, which improves heart, lung, and muscle functioning. Laughing also gives us a boost of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and creates an increased feeling of overall well-being. After a good laugh, you might have more positive feelings like pleasure and happiness; those feelings are a result of the release of endorphins in the body.
Improves the immune system
When you are stressed, your body uses more energy and nutrients. If you are stressed for prolonged periods of time, your body can’t replenish the energy stores as efficiently, leaving your body more susceptible to illness. According to an article published by St. Johns Health, laughter increases the production of anti-infection antibodies and T-cells in the blood, which helps protect the body from infections.
Releases tension in the body
Laughing helps relax the muscles in the body and improves circulation, which can reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress such as sore neck, back pain and headaches. Less stress equals less tension. At the end of the workday, when you notice your body is getting stiff or your shoulders are starting to ache, having a good laugh might help loosen some of that tightness.
Increases personal satisfaction and relationships
When we are stressed, we tend to be harsher on ourselves. Laughing helps take the pressure off and allows us to find more satisfaction and a sense of connection with our work and those around us. Receiving a funny email from a colleague or checking out the cartoon section of the newspaper can help you reconnect with laughter and allow you to feel more lighthearted.
Improves heart health
As discussed above, laughing releases endorphins and impacts other chemicals, such as cortisol, in the body that help combat the negative impacts of long-term stress. When the body can regulate its cortisol levels, blood pressure improves. With laughing increasing the amount of oxygen rich blood in the body, laughing can also decrease your risk of having a heart attack.
Reframes your thoughts
When you are stressed, your thoughts tend to be more negative in nature. Why can’t I get my work done? There aren’t enough hours in the day. I can’t do this. My presentation is boring. Laughing releases endorphins in your body which also act as your “feel-good” chemicals, produced by the brain, to boost happiness. The more often you laugh, the better equipped you will be to reframe negative thoughts and turn them into more supportive ones.
With all this information regarding the benefits of laughing, you might be wondering how you can add more laughter into your life. A few suggestions would be spending time with pets, listening to a funny podcast, learning to laugh at yourself and surrounding yourself with those who make you laugh. Spending time with and playing with pets is a lighthearted way to bring more joy into your life. On your way to and from work, listening to a funny podcast or radio host can be an easy, low-effort way to reduce stress from the workday and have a laugh or two. When something embarrassing happens, we tend to get upset or think about the things we did wrong. Learning to laugh at yourself in certain situations can ease that burden. Lastly, look at who you are spending the most time with. Do they make you laugh? Are they fun to be around? Are you happier after spending time with them? If not, find people you can have fun and be silly with.
Laughter is a readily available resource we all have access to as a strategy for stress management and for improving overall wellbeing. Next time you are feeling stressed, or if you are currently in a moment of feeling stressed or overwhelmed, do an audit on how much you are laughing. It may just be the thing you’re looking for to help you reduce your stress and live well.
1. Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016 Jul;239(3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243. PMID: 27439375.