Smiling or laughing is infectious, looking at someone smiling naturally makes you reciprocate, even if you are having a rough day. Be it a fight with your spouse or that frustrating traffic, you see a giggling baby and it tickles your funny bone, doesn’t it?
Today’s mundane stressful work life has taken a toll on our health and we have forgotten to live in the present and enjoy the little moments. The rise in the number of stand-up comedians and comedy shows is testament to this growing need. People are shelling out big bucks to watch these performances. This is perhaps an escape from their demanding routine. Laughter clubs in residential parks see groups of people getting together early morning and just laughing out loud. Is this just a fad or does science support the theory that laughter heals?
Researchers say that half of our health problems increase due to mental stress. No, your health related problems can’t be magically cured if you start laughing but stress only adds to the problem. So if you see any frowning face around you, use the most powerful tool, humour to turn that frown upside down. This medicine is not available at any pharmacy, is free of cost and comes with no instruction manual.
Being open to good humour is not only a stress buster but also induces a lot of physical changes in your body. You will be surprised to know that there is so much more to those giggles than just raising your spirits.
The mental or psychological benefits are visible on the outset but what very few people are aware of is its physical benefits:
1. Stress Buster
When one smiles, the movement of the facial muscles sends signals to the brain which in turn triggers the release of certain neurotransmitters called endorphins. These chemicals act as natural pain killers, make us feel happy and reduce our stress levels. The more one stimulates the brain to release the chemicals the more one feels calm and composed. Says clinical psychologist at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, Dr.Sanjana Saraf, “When you are stressed, the body secretes stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol becomes more active when we are anxious or sad or angry as a result of which, the body initiates a sympathetic reaction. On the other hand, happy thoughts initiate a parasympathetic reaction.”
2. Helps in Respiration
Have you experienced a sense of relief after a hearty laugh? This is because laughter involves deep exhalations which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and you enter a calmer state. Similar to deep breathing, laughter has a cleansing effect that is especially beneficial for patients suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments.
3. Improves Social Relations
Frequent mood swings and anger issues only complicate the problem between friends and family members. This usually ends up disrupting the overall balance of the household and often is the reason for break ups and divorce. Gurgaon-based expert clinical psychologist, Dr. Prerna Kohli (PhD) tells us how laughter affects one’s social relations, “It is a well-known fact that laughter reduces stress. A stress free person is an enjoyable companion, who would you rather be with – someone who is stressed and dumping their emotional garbage on you or someone who is fun, entertaining and makes you laugh? Laughter is great for the mind, body and soul, and is akin to jogging for the soul. Laughter brings positive energy and rejuvenates the relationship. Laughter is the biggest stress buster.”
4. Burns Calories or Tones Your Abs
Obviously you cannot solely depend on your sitcoms to help you shed that stubborn flab but yes laughing is like a mini workout. When you laugh real hard, the stomach muscles expand and contract just as when you are performing an ab workout. Laughter acts as a cheat sheet to get that toned stomach. “It is a known fact that laughter burns calories. As you walk around in parks and gardens around the city, yoga enthusiasts are practicing yoga and laughing in a group. One of the group yoga asanas is laughing. Physiologically speaking, laughter makes a person inhale deep breaths and the rising and falling of the chest runs blood in the body, similar to jogging” shares Dr.Kohli.
5. Sleep Well
If the last show you watch before dozing off is of a comic genre, then you have greater chances of a peaceful sleep. A good bout of laughter before sleeping reduces anxiety and leads to a deep sleep which is just what you need after a long day.
6. Eases Physical Pain
How does cracking up aid in easing pain? The answer lies in what happens within our body when we chuckle. When you have a good hearty laugh, the muscles move and expand the blood vessels, which send more blood to all parts of the body. Furthermore, the rate of breathing increases, thereby increasing the oxygen level in the blood. A person with a good sense of humour is always in a positive frame of mind and approaches each task with optimism. It is considered the best way to relax oneself as it reduces the level of stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol. Unlike in meditation, laughter allows all our senses to combine naturally and effortlessly to give a sense of peace and joy.
7. Keeps Diabetes Away
Laughter affects the neuroendocrine system, which monitors the body’s glucose levels. Similar to working out, it enhances the overall performance of the heart’s muscular function to keep the heart disease at bay. In fact, blood glucose level increases due to negative emotions like stress, fear and anxiety. A good dose of laughter regulates the blood sugar since it massages the endocrine glands responsible for glucose production.
8. Strengthens the Immune System
Laughing increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells. This reduces our chances of falling prey to common cold and cough. A strong immune system keeps the allergies and infections at bay. Says Dr.Saraf, “Laughter reduces the negative thoughts that weaken the immune system of the body and make one vulnerable to diseases. A happy person has a higher ability to fight diseases since he is in the right frame of mind and hence takes his medicines on time. The immune system goes into a stress free zone.”
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9. Makes You Look Younger
Laughter is an excellent exercise for the facial muscles. About 15 facial muscles come together to bring that glee to your face. Laughing increases the blood supply to your cheeks that nourishes the skin and makes your face glow. It tones up the face, giving you an attractive look.
Owing to the strain of modern work life, there has been a rise in mind related diseases like depression, anxiety, nervous breakdown and sleeplessness leading to suicidal tendencies. Laughing boosts the production of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant that produces a general sense of well-being and keeps one optimistic.
Do whatever you can to spread laughter and happiness around you, now that you know the plethora of advantages it has. So do not hesitate to share a joke or find joy in the little moments. It goes a long way.