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The Benefits of Laughter

A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter stimulates many organs (heart, lungs and muscles) by enhancing the intake of oxygen-rich blood. It also increases the amount of endorphins released by the brain.

Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.  Be mindful of how your body feels before, during and after a good laugh. Laughter releases tension in the muscles of the face, neck, shoulders and abdomen, all common areas where we tend to hold tension. A more relaxed state is often achieved after a solid laugh.

Laughter improves the immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that often affect the body by bringing more stress into our systems, thus, decreasing our immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

Laughter relieves pain. Laughter eases pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.

Laughter also helps us connect with other people. Laughter acts as a social signal and synchronizes the brains of the speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned. Most of what makes people laugh is not thigh-slapping jokes but subtle comments made related to the current conversation.

Considering this connecting nature of laughter, it is not surprizing that laughter is contagious and that we are drawn to it.

Laughter improves our moods by lessening depression and anxiety. Laugher stimulates chemical changes in the brain that help buffer the body against the cumulative effects of stress and trauma. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations.

Make it a part of your routine to intentionally bring humour into your life. Here are a few ways:
•    Find a few simple items, such as photos or comic strips that make you grin or chuckle. Place them in frequently seen places around your home or office.
•    Get a supply of funny movies or comedy shows on hand.
•    Spend time with friends who make you laugh.
•    Share funny stories, jokes or photos with others.
•    Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing or at least ‘put on a smile.’

And more importantly, from a self-awareness perspective, find a way to laugh about the situations you are stressed or worried about.  What part of you has been activated or ‘caught’ again? What lesson are you being asked to revisit? It’s that archetypal Trickster energy that makes us (Ego) stop in our tracks, re-evaluate what is really ‘up’, and then, have an insightful laugh about it. For more on Trickster click here.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.