Is Laughter The Best Medicine For Anxiety, Stress and Mental Health?

We all love to laugh but does laughter actually have mental health benefits for things like anxiety and stress?

The other Friday my wife and I headed to a local venue here in Ely with some friends for a comedy night. 'The Best in Comedy' night featured two great comedians (Ahir Shah and Glenn Moore) who thoroughly entertained us all with their jokes, quips and anecdotes. Despite having very different styles they were both excellent.   

Laughter certainly makes us feel better, at least for a time, and seems to boost our mental health and see the lighter side of life, or even laugh at the situations and challenges that we all face from time to time. In the past, going to see comedians such as Ricky Gervais, Rob Brydon and Jack Dee has left me with tears down my face and an ache in my tummy from laughing so much. We all love a good laugh (or a good groan it seems when it comes to some of my own efforts).

Only last week my daughter was telling me how her PE teacher wears Nike trainers, Nike Socks, Nike leggings and a Nike T-shirt for lessons. I said, 'do you know her problem? She's got Nike fever, Nike fever...' (yes in my best Bee Gees' 'Night Fever' voice). All I got was a groan. You just can't get a good audience these days can you?!

And only last night I looked up some jokes online to entertain my other daughter and found some classics such as,

What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear!

Knock, knock. Who's there? Cows say. Cows say who? No silly, cows say moo!

My friend is silly. He told me that onions are the only food that can make you cry. So I threw a coconut at him! (that was my daughter's fave!)

Hey, don't groan at me, I didn't write them!

Laughter and Mental Health 

I think we all instinctively know that laughter makes us feel better and that all those positive chemicals buzzing around our heads can give us a lift. It's hard to be anxious, low or stressed while you are laughing. And laughing can help us to feel better to handle challenges and can sometimes even shift our perspective about those things that were causing us anxiety, worry and stress.

As American philosopher and psychologist, William James, put it, "We don’t laugh because we are happy, we’re happy because we laugh." 

And a bit more recently, Ricky Gervais has said, "If you can laugh in the face of adversity, you’re bullet-proof.". And in many ways, much of what makes us laugh ourselves, or when listening to a comedian, is being able to laugh when things go wrong and not get too caught up in it or give it more weight than it deserves.

Perhaps more poignantly, concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl has described how laughter helped him endure such terrible conditions, "I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it liveable."

And if Frankl was able to draw upon laughter through his experience, then perhaps the rest of us can and should see the funnier side when we say or do something stupid or when something isn't going to plan, or even when we are thinking of what might happen ahead of us.

laughter anxiety stress mental health hypnotherapy ely

 

Laughter For Anxiety, Stress and Depression

We all can all enjoy a good laugh and feel better for it, and people have been singing the praises of laughter for many, many years, but what are the actual benefits of laughter for anxiety, stress and your mental health? What does the scientific research and evidence actually say?

Well it turns out quite a bit!

Ilkhani, Mohtashami & Rezaei (2019) conducted a systematic review of the 'Effect of laughter therapy on cancer-related anxiety in patients with breast cancer.' Their review, which analysed results for over four hundred people, concluded that, "laughter therapy is an effective way for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress in not only breast cancer patients but also in all cancers and all patients."

And Kim SH , Kim YH , Kim HJ , Lee SH ,& Yu SO (2009) investigated the 'Effect of Laughter Therapy on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Patients with Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy' and concluded that "laughter therapy is an effective intervention in improving depression, anxiety, and stress in breast cancer patients."

Given that cancer and cancer treatments are a great source of stress and anxiety, this really is a strong endorsement of the benefit of laughter for reducing anxiety and depression and improving mental health. If laughter therapy is therapeutically beneficial in this most stressful of circumstances, then it suggests that the benefits should also be applicable in other aspects of life.

And although I haven't been able to get hold of a full copy of the paper yet, Dogan (2020) carried out a meta-analysis of the effect of laughter therapy on anxiety and concluded, based upon a total sample of 157 participants, that laughter therapy can decrease anxiety, making it an effective complementary method to decrease anxiety. 

Argawal (2014) reviewed the role of humour and laughter with regard to health and writes that "Evidence based data has substantiated that humor and laughter can play a strong complementary role in reducing stress, anxiety, depression, pain and improving immune system..."  Laughter can help reduce stress and anxiety and benefit people with depression, as well as improving your sense of well-being. Introducing humour and laughter into high stress workplaces has also been shown to improve creativity, productivity, motivation and morale.

Argawal also highlights research that mirthful laughter is associated with short term 'aerobic exercise' like effects, as evidenced by muscle contractions, sharply fast and sporadic deep breathing, increased heart-rate and oxygen consumption. And, genuine laughter has been shown to increase energy expenditure.

Buchowski et al (2007) set out to measure the energy expenditure and heart rate during genuine laughter and concluded that "genuine voiced laughter causes a 10–20% increase in energy expenditure and HR above resting values. We calculated that 10–15 min of laughter could increase energy expenditure by 50–170 kJ (10–40 kcal) per day." So laughter uses more energy than rest and is up there in energy expenditure with other tasks such as light clerical work or writing - and fifteen minutes of laughter may equate to walking approximately half to one kilometre. As Buchowski et al state, "although laughter cannot replace exercise or other forms of intense physical activity, its production should not be discounted in the total balance of energy and should be considered a component of the non-exercise activity thermogenesis."

So whilst laughter isn't likely to be your only strategy in a weight loss approach (laugh yourself slim anyone?!), it seems it could help you lose weight and certainly to burn more calories than resting.  

As well as helping to reduce stress, laughter can also benefit your immune system. Bennett, Zeller, Rosenberg, & McCann (The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity, 2003) studied the effect of laughter on self reported stress and natural killer cell activity in a sample of healthy women.

They concluded that, "Laughter may reduce stress and improve NK cell activity. As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioral intervention."

And finally from the research and evidence that I'm writing about here today, is a review carried out into the therapeutic value of laughter in medicine (Mora-Ripoll, 2010). This review suggests that there is evidence that laughter exercises and relaxes muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, decreases stress hormones, increases the immune system’s defenses, elevates pain threshold and tolerance, and enhances mental functioning. "The following seems to be good advice for both patients and health care professionals: “Add laughter to your working and daily life, remember to laugh regularly, share your laughs, and help others to laugh, too.”"

So in summary, there is evidence to support the beneficial effects of laughing more, and not just because it makes us feel good. Laughter can help reduce anxiety and stress, can help people with depression, can boost your immune system and can even help you burn more energy!  I think I'll certainly be buying tickets for the next comedy show here in Ely!

If you want some more laughing inspiration then you can take a look at another article I've written that includes links to my three favourite funny sketches. Do have a look here: Using Humour To Tackle Anxiety and Stress - Anxiety Relief with Laughter

I just want to finish with three more quotes about why we should all aim to laugh more:

Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.” Lord Byron

A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Charlie Chaplin

There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” Charles Dickens

To your happiness,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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References:

Agarwal, S.K., 2014. Therapeutic benefits of laughter. Medical Science, 12(46), pp.19-23.

Bennett, M.P., Zeller, J.M., Rosenberg, L. and McCann, J., 2003. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity.

Buchowski, M.S., Majchrzak, K.M., Blomquist, K., Chen, K.Y., Byrne, D.W. and Bachorowski, J.A., 2007. Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International journal of obesity, 31(1), pp.131-137.

Dogan, M.D., 2020. The Effect of Laughter Therapy on Anxiety: A Meta-analysis. Holistic nursing practice34(1), pp.35-39.

Ilkhani, M., Mohtashami, J. and Rezaei, H., 2019. Effect of laughter therapy on cancer-related anxiety in patients with breast cancer; a systematic review. Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education & Research| Apr-Jun, 9(S2), p.195.

Kim, S.H., Kim, Y.H., Kim, H.J., Lee, S.H. and Yu, S.O., 2009. The effect of laughter therapy on depression, anxiety, and stress in patients with breast cancer undergoing radiotherapy. J Korean Oncol Nurs, 9(2), p.155.

Mora-Ripoll, R., 2010. The therapeutic value of laughter in medicine. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 16(6).

Yim, J., 2016. Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: a theoretical review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, 239(3), pp.243-249.