Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ho Ho Ho, Not Just for Santa! – The Health Benefits of Laughter

The holiday season can be a stressful time for many of us as we try to plan social gatherings, rack up credit card debt, and have to see people we don’t necessarily get on with (or for some, not even having anyone to spend the holidays with). Just the thought of it can evoke dangerous levels of stress to our bodies. My advice for a happy holiday is to lighten the load by having yourself a good old laugh! It will benefit you emotionally, mentally and physically.     
Laughter lowers stress, boosts mood and your immune system, according to Dr. Lee Bark of the Loma Linda University Medical Center. In one study involving sixteen men who watched a funny video, levels of the stress hormone cortisol fell 39% after a good belly laugh. Adrenaline (epinephrine) levels fell 70%, while levels of the feel-good hormone endorphin rose 27%. Not only that, but the “youth hormone” GH skyrocketed at 87%. When we are overly stressed, our hormones can lower energy levels, increase blood pressure and disrupt metabolic processes such as digestion. They can also lower testosterone levels in men and cause irregular menstrual cycles in women.  When we laugh, our feel-good hormones increase cell production (growth/healing), slow aging, and can improve our sleeping patterns. Having a giggle also improves our immunity by increasing the production of antibodies that keep us healthy and able to fight off diseases and infections which are so prevalent during the wintertime.*
One of my favorite moments in my Ayurvedic Medicine class was when our teacher hit the lights and started wailing out an enormous belly laugh causing the entire class to go into fits of laughter for a good 10 minutes. When she turned the lights back on, we all had tears of joy in our eyes and felt amazing. The energy levels in the class room were incredible!
Laughter is comparable to aerobic exercise according to Dr. William Fry, laughter temporarily speeds up the heart rate, increases blood pressure and breathing, expands circulation, and enhances the flow of oxygen in and out of the body. It exercises the upper torso, lungs, and heart, as well as the shoulders, arms, abdomen, diaphragm, and legs. In fact, a team of researchers at the University of Maryland reported that individuals who used humour in their speech patterns were less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who didn’t. Still other researchers have found that people with a good sense of humour overall experience less stress and better health.*
So when you’re feeling sad and stressed this holiday season try to think of things that make you laugh or at least put a smile on your face. Have a few funny memories on hand that can help you to feel better. If you can’t think of any funny memories, connect with your friends and family members that always have you in stitches and make you feel better. Take a time-out and put on your favorite feel-good holiday comedies (some of mine include Mr. Bean’s Christmas Special, Elf, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles). Check out your local comedy club or if you are too moody to leave your place then there are always online video clips of things that can make you laugh. Whatever you do be sure to spread some happiness and holiday cheer to those that need it most with a good HO HO HO, because when you laugh, the world laughs with you.
*D. Colbert, “Deadly Emotions” (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2003)
Posted By: Hayley Shwaizer, CNP


  1. Absolutely amasing article Hayley.
    I totally agree with what you had to say about our stress levels and how it connects to laughter and just surrounding yourself with that kind of joy really creates harmony!

  2. When I told Yvette my blog topic she reminded me how people say "I needed that" after they have a good laugh. I love how something so simple can be so effective.