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Mental Health – Something to Laugh At

Mental Health – Something to Laugh At
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By Kitt Walsh

My sons have made a competition of seeing who can make me laugh hard enough to wet my pants. (They inherited this. We used to do it to my mother.)

I get tickled by something, start laughing, and keep it up until I am crying, gasping for air and squeezing my thighs together, while frantically waving for them to stop. They don’t, but the wet pants are well worth it. Every time I roar with laughter, I am one step further away from despair and depression (two twin demons which threaten my mental health.)

My sense of humor has saved my sanity…literally. Sure, some serious talks with psychologists, many years in a 12-step program, and 30 odd years of antidepressants got me to a point where I can see the humor in things, but it is the laughter that is the tonic.

I am not alone in this belief.

Research shows that a good laugh can include protection from emotional problems like depression to helping with dementia. Laughing often and developing a sense of humor buffets you against many of life’s more negative tides (and that is where depression starts). People who use humor to fight stress and depression really do feel more positive about themselves and are found to be less lonely, even when alone.

Kids laugh about 400 times in any given 24-hour period. We grownups laugh about 15 times a day. We would do well to remember the lyrics to The Byrds song, Turn, Turn, Turn—“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

According to gelotologists (from the Greek gelos, which means “to laugh”) who study laughter, it has to the power to stop mental stress in its tracks and measurably slash stress hormone levels. Even our muscles relax for up to 45 minutes after a good laugh.

Here’s another recommendation for laughing often: Some people in a Marquette University study were shown a funny video after having read a list of words. One week later, those who had seen the video recalled 20% more of the words than those who had not seen the video, The psychologists who ran the study contended that the laughter had sped up the heartbeat of the watchers, therefore more oxygen was sent to their brain and that boosted their memory.

Including more laughter in your life seems to help all around. So how to incorporate more guffaws in your own life?

  • Find out what makes you laugh and indulge. (Personally, I can’t make it through a showing of ‘the Birdcage,” “Richard Pryor Live” or Mel Brook’s “Spaceballs” without cracking up, but pick your own poison.) If its DVDs on a Friday night, an Anne LaMott book on the subway or silly pet videos online, make opportunities to laugh. Medical experts have found that humor therapy was as effective as widely used antipsychotic drugs, without the side effects, in managing agitation in dementia patients. Endorphins, those champagne bubbles of the brain, get released when you laugh (and exercise and listen to music, too.)
  • Discover laughter yoga, a special combination of yoga breathing and exhaling that creates a “laugh,” giving you all the benefits of laughter along with all the rest of the good stuff yoga for your body and spirit. After just seven sessions of laughter yoga, many research participants in one study even saw a significant reduction in their blood pressure. Laughter Yoga International (laughteryoga.org) for more information on this technique.
  • While you are on the laughter yoga site, you can also search for a laughter group. The site lists dozens of social laughter clubs where you can join others who are making a real attempt to “lighten up.” Or search Yahoo groups or others online dedicated to laughter.
  • Find out where nearby comedy clubs are and then frequent them. Grab a group from your office (you know they need a good guffaw) and head for a club on open mike night. You will not only get a giggle or two (fairly cheaply, if you are not seeing the headliner) but help encourage young talent.
  • If your own lack of talent doesn’t bother you, make it part of the merry- making. Nothing creates ha-ha’s like karoke night with old friends and laughing at yourself is a special kind of mood leveler.

Good for your memory, your immune system, your heart, your brain and your mood—laughter might be the go-to technique for gaining and keeping your mental health. #mentalhealth #laughter

 

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