If you remember from previous columns, when you are under stress, your body has mobilized energy for the fight-or-flight response. You are in a readiness state, prepared for action. Your body is filled with stress-related nervous energy and muscle tension that calls for physical release. Release, as a line of defense against stress, uses physical activity to get rid of this tension and energy by leading with the body, not the mind. Laughter is an underutilized but very powerful Release Technique.
What are the physiological effects of a good belly laugh? Is there something more to the stress-reducing effects of humor that go beyond the cognitive? The answer is a resounding yes! It is physiologically impossible to be stressed when you are laughing.
Laughter creates a physiological state that is incompatible with stress. Almost all the body systems are involved: the skeletal and smooth muscles contract, respiration increases in-depth and rate, heart rate and blood pressure elevate, body temperature increases, and the central nervous system is activated.
The real benefit of laughter is that the levels of activity of these systems and physiological processes (breathing, pumping blood, and muscle contraction) initially are higher than they are when the body is at rest. After a good laugh, they fall below normal resting levels, resulting in the same sense of deep relaxation and contentment.
At least five major muscle groups react rhythmically when you laugh: the abdomen, neck, shoulders, diaphragm, and face. When you are finished laughing, they all are more relaxed than they were when you started. Laughter is a good tonic for muscle tension. Laughter also is a proven pain reliever. Laughter, like physical exercise, can trigger the release of endorphins.
Laughter is such a powerful tool agent in combating stress that in India, Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor, went public with a treatment he had been testing. He had been meeting with a group of patients and neighbors on a regular basis to explore the effects of laughter on stress. Dr. Kataria developed a laughter-inducing technique derived from yoga that not only loosened inhibitions and got people laughing, but also was good for improved breathing and was associated with reducing hypertension and the effects of arthritis and migraine headaches.
After seeing these results in individual patients and his small groups, Dr. Kataria was convinced that his technique could work in a group or club setting, thereby increasing his ability to help much larger numbers of people. He organized the first laughing club in Priyadarshini Park, bringing people from all castes and classes together to laugh for forty minutes each day. In Dr. Kataria’s laughing clubs, members meet in groups of up to fifty, and after loosening up with some stretching and breathing exercises, they cajole and egg each other on to sustain lengthy bouts of laughter. Kataria trains members to produce many different styles of laughing ranging from silly giggles to deep belly laughs. Kataria’s work was immortalized by director Mira Nair and producer Adam Bartos in their critically acclaimed 2000 film, The Laughing Club of India.
Stress Buster Tip: How to Add More Laughter into Your Life
- Watch comedy movies more often. Use the “search” feature of your content service provider to review the movies under this category.
- Listen to comedy recordings. iTunes, Audible, and many other audio-related businesses provide books and audio collections that focus on comedy.
- Visit comedy clubs. Keep track of who is performing at your local comedy clubs. Find a few local comedians you love and get out of the house occasionally to watch them and laugh.
- Read the comics. Most print and digital newspapers have a Comics section. Read it on a regular basis and start your day with a chuckle or two.
- Avoid the news. Take a vacation from the news if it makes you angry and cancels out your laughter and joy. Stick to reading the paper and viewing the news on Sunday if you need a break.