Is Laughter the Very Best Medicine?

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by Serena Lawrence |

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Is laughter the best medicine?

In Life with PH

After being diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension I began to look high and low for things to incorporate into my lifestyle that potentially could help with my overall wellness. I began to look at myself as a holistic being, instead of someone with an illness. How was I overall, and what could I do to improve my total health?

I read about laughter therapy, which easily became the least-threatening approach to try to fuse into my lifestyle. (Finally, something that didn’t want me to stop eating chocolate or recommend that I sit on a meditation pillow for hours each day!) Laughter therapy uses humor as a technique to help reduce anxiety, stress, manage pain and even boost the immune system. Have you heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine?” It turns out there may be some truth to that proverb.

A book I was reading mentioned Norman Cousins, which is how I first began to learn about laughter therapy. In 1964, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and was given a few months to live. As a journalist, he used his skills to seek more information about what he could do to help his health. He got a small movie projector and a pile of comedy movies and Candid Camera television shows.

Even though Cousins was in constant pain due to his illness, he made it a point to laugh in spite of the pain. In fact, he tried to laugh until his stomach hurt from it. Cousins passed away in 1990, surviving decades longer than his doctors first predicted. Did laughter therapy help Cousin’s recover? Although Cousins credited laughter as part of his recovery, we can’t say for sure if it caused him to survive for so long after his diagnosis. However, there clearly are many benefits to laughter therapy.

There have been various studies that explored the impact of laughter on health. Studies reveal the test subjects experience a boost to the immune system, a decrease in stress-related hormones and a reduction in pain after being exposed to a humorous event.

I know that when I was first diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, it took a lot to make me laugh. In fact, I don’t think I laughed for nearly a year. I do remember my first laugh after diagnosis, and yes, it had to do with passing gas. (I can picture cave men telling the first jokes known to humankind over farts.) At first it was hard to find humor in things. However, I now laugh frequently — and loudly! I purposely seek comedic shows to watch, and often watch my favorite funny YouTube clips on a day when I need a good laugh.

According to some studies, laughter therapy can help boost both the immune system and the circulatory system. It can help balance blood pressure and enhance oxygen intake. It also can aid in stimulating the heart and lungs. Because laughter can trigger the release of endorphins, it can help with pain. (It is important to note that many of these studies are conducted on regular participants, or cancer patients. It is hard to know how these benefits translate to pulmonary hypertension patients.)

Laughter also may help you gain a sense of overall well-being. It can help improve relaxation, reduce stress, and it help enhance sleep. (Ah, sweet, precious  and much-sought-after sleep.) Because laughter can help enhance your mood, it may even help improve your relationships and attitude.

More and more medical journals are acknowledging the positive effects laughter therapy can have on both patients, and even people who are not sick. So much so, that cancer centers, (such as the Cancer Treatment Centers of America) offer integrative laughter therapy. There are various approaches to laughter therapy, such as leader-lead laughter groups, laughter yoga and, well, just plain laughter.

Don’t have a laughter group near you? That’s okay. You can laugh from home. What do you find funny? What makes you happy? What makes you belly roar with laughter? I try to make a conscious choice to laugh daily. It may sound silly, but without making that choice, there would be days where I wouldn’t laugh at all. I not-so-secretly watch hilarious clips and TV shows to keep the old belly jolly. Sometimes my mom can hear me laughing while watching a Conan O’Brien clip and sipping a cup of tea on a Sunday morning.

Here are some of my favorite laugh-inducing videos to help you get started:

Steven Yeun and Conan Visit a Korean Spa
It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this video, I laugh hysterically every time. I love Conan and Steve’s (aka Glenn from The Walking Dead) comedic chemistry. If you are fan of the dynamic duo, there are more videos of them venturing to places, such as Korea. I highly recommend watching them visit a Buddhist meditation temple.

As a big Conan fan, here are some more clips of his I would recommend for a good laugh.
Conan Visits the American Doll Store
Conan Takes Jordan Schlansky Coffee Tasting

Andy and Jacqueline Brave the Haunted House
Every year Ellen makes her poor executive producer Andy venture through a haunted house for Halloween. He is equally terrified every year, and always uses his accompanying guest as a human shield. If you enjoyed this video, Ellen has several videos of scaredy cat Andy making his way through various haunted houses.

Angriest Puppy
I love Boston Terriers. This clip has a Boston Terrier that makes alien noises and has what my boyfriend affectionately calls “googly eyes.” If you are a dog or animal lover (or if you love aliens,) this video might just put a smile on your face.

The Soup: The Hills
The Soup (RIP) was one of my favorite comedy shows. Comedian Joel McHale critiqued clips from popular TV shows, including reality TV shows like The Hills. “It’s crazy how all of this is happening while Lauren is gone” might just became your new favorite saying.

Jigsaw Falls
Okay, this video is so old it might be one of the first videos updated to YouTube. Laughing is said to be contagious. If there is any truth to that, the uproarious laugh of the camera man will have you laughing along as well. I used to enjoy this video so much I would burst out in laughter whenever I thought of it, which was not always appreciated in art history class.

What makes you laugh?

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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