In the interest of full disclosure, I am a humor hobbyist. I enjoy finding the funny side of life’s experiences. Wikipedia defines humor (or humour in British English) as “the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement.”
It may be a form of operant conditioning (yes, like animal training) that hard-wired my brain. I have four younger siblings plus two phantom siblings, “I Dunno” and “NotMe.” When something broke, went missing, or otherwise upset our parents, the responsible child was usually Not Me or I Dunno. If we could get mom or dad to crack a smile, we wouldn’t be grounded for life. We learned that laughter dissipates anger. It is impossible to sustain the anger emotion while laughing; it flips a switch in the brain.
Coping Skills: Humor and Laughter
Seeking humor also elevates one’s thinking to an observer level, a space once removed from the participant level. This helps to de-personalize the experience and allows time to respond, rather than react, to a perceived threat.
Humor is also a safe way to express fears. When I awoke in the ICU and saw my minister at the foot of my bed talking to my husband, I asked, “Am I dying?” When he said, “I don’t think so.” I replied, “Good. Then I’m happy to see you!”
On more than one occasion during my stem cell transplant journey, I asked various billing departments if they offered discounts for Costco or AAA members. I asked friends and family to help me keep my laugh on by sending funny messages.
Humor does not change the facts of my situation. It helps adjust my perspective, albeit temporarily, to boost my endorphins and find a glimmer of hope to grab.
Serious times call for serious laughter
In the face of uncertainty, a natural reaction is self-protection. Anything that reduces the feeling of vulnerability or fosters a sense of control is fair game. Prolonged stress takes a harmful toll on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. These conditions can cause one to become laugh-resistant.
A prescription for Humor should be given to everyone living with a chronic illness. Humor, and its powerful side effect, Laughter, contribute to our physical and emotional well-being.
Laughter has proven physical benefits to the human body:
- Reduces pain (by producing hormones called endorphins in response to laughter).
- Strengthens immune function. A good belly laugh increases production of T-cells, interferon and immune proteins called globulins.
- Decreases stress. When under stress, we produce a hormone called cortisol. Laughter significantly lowers cortisol levels and returns the body to a more relaxed state.
- Exercises organs. The lungs, heart, abdominal muscles, thorax, liver, diaphragm, and lachrymal glands all are exercised. Digestive organs are also stimulated.
How to Dose Up Humor and Laughter
Begin where you are.
- If a hearty belly laugh seems as likely as running a marathon, begin with a smile. (That is when the ends of your lips curve upwards.) You can show your teeth or keep them covered. Smiles, like yawns and laughs, are contagious.
- Count your blessings. Make a list or count on your fingers and toes. Simply focusing on the good things in your life will break the concentration on negative thoughts and feelings. This helps refocus the brain and gives your body a break from stressful thinking.
- Listen, Watch, Read funny material. You-Tube has all kinds of humor – funny babies, funny animals, you name it. Remember Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and the Three Stooges? Turn off the news channels and surround yourself with kindness and humor.
- Look for laughter and smiley people. Seek out people who can laugh at themselves and everyday events. Look for humor in your daily activities. Ask people what’s the funniest thing that happened to you this week?
Exercise EVERYone Can Do: Laughter Yoga
You don’t need a yoga mat and there are no awkward poses with Laughter Yoga. The focus is on deep breathing and full belly laughter. Learn to laugh without humor. It is a body-mind approach that does not require jokes or even a sense of humor. Our bodies and minds cannot discern the difference between laughter triggered by humor or this exercise. Within 90 seconds to two minutes, the laughter becomes real. It is also contagious. Check out http://www.wikihow.com/Do-Laughter-Yoga and Laughter Yoga University to learn more.