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Laughter therapy

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You know how it feels when you laugh so hard you cry? Whatever tension you had, a good belly laugh washes it away. Because your mind and body are connected, laughing may be one of the best natural medicines around.

What happens when you laugh?

Family laughingA robust laugh gives the muscles of your face, diaphragm, abdomen, and sometimes your arms and legs, a good workout. Your heart rate and blood pressure rise then fall, you breathe faster and deeper, and oxygen surges through your blood stream. Your brain pumps hormones that make you very alert and endorphins that numb pain. Laughter:

  • raises your pain threshold
  • reduces stress and calms you in emotional situations
  • enhances immunity by boosting your levels of antibodies

Laughing relaxes your body and clears your mind. By seeing the humor in a stressful situation, you may be able to change your response to the stress by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.

You can't laugh and worry too much at the same time.

Prescription for laughter

How can you use humor to feel your best? Try to:

Women laughingseek out things that make you laugh, like funny movies, books, and cartoons

keep a humor journal in which you write down jokes, funny things kids say, newspaper headlines, bumper stickers, and events

tell jokes and make a point of passing on the jokes you hear

laugh at yourself when you make mistakes or think you're taking yourself too seriously

look at the funny side of stressful situations and turn them into funny stories you can tell afterwards

handle stressful events with humor instead of anger or anxiety

Humor can be a powerful medicine, and laughter can be contagious.

Source: Adapted with permission from the Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (as published under the title Mind & Body Health Handbook), David Sobel, MD, and Robert Ornstein, PhD, 1996

Reviewed by: Paul Millea, MD, June, 2013
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2013 Kaiser Permanente

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