Had a Good Laugh Lately? Why Improving Your Mental Health Doesn't have to be Such Serious Business, by Erin Graves, MSW, Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker
When I meet with clients experiencing anxiety, stress and depression, I regularly provide self-care assignments in between sessions to increase the effectiveness of therapy. While there are a variety of self-care practices that can be helpful such as exercise, mindfulness, social connection, pet therapy, relaxation and self-compassion, one of the most fun and enjoyable is laughter. And laughter typically has instantaneous short-term benefits as well as long-term benefits on improved mental health and well-being!
As adults laughter may not be as abundant as we wish with the complexities of work and home life. Laughter and fun can often be viewed as trivial or unimportant in the scope of a busy life. You may think you can barely get all the tasks done on your list and wonder where will you have time to fit in humor or laughter. But laughter is exactly what is needed to help ease stress and may actually provide a well-needed break to improve outlook and even productivity.
In some ways we’ve become conditioned to believe that supporting our mental health always has to be serious business that feels like “work” and this simply isn’t true. Laughter is an essential part of being human and is a natural stress reliever. We may often suppress or ignore our needs for laughter-fueled activities, but these activities are critical to the maintenance of our mental health.
As an experiment the next time you are around a group of young children observe how laughter is a natural part of play. Ask yourself how can you build more “play” or opportunities to laugh into your own daily life. Healthy infants actually have the ability to laugh and smile before they speak which accounts for how laughter and play is part of our human nature. So why deny your essential human nature?
If you need more convincing that there is a tangible benefit to laughter, check out the list below. The mental, emotional and physical health benefits that can result from bringing more laughter into your life are no joke:
- Relieves stress hormones
- Promotes relaxation
- Eases emotional and muscular tension
- Improves mental clarity
- Boosts immunity
- Improves coping
- Improves mood
- Increases feelings of happiness
- Eases chronic pain
- Improves connection with other people
Psychologist and laughter therapist Steve Wilson asserts that laughter has many of the same benefits as exercise in promoting mental health and it actually burns more calories than sedentary activity. He suggests that if we can find opportunities to generate laughter it also activates the release of endorphins the “feel good” chemicals in the body allowing us to relieve stress and feel better. One study in Norway indicated that individuals with a good sense of humor actually had a higher life expectancy than their more serious counterparts. Below you’ll find a list of on-line resources on the many other benefits of increasing laughter in your life.
Now I’m not suggesting that you sign up for open mic night at your local comedy club but here are a few simple and even free ways to bring a laugh or a giggle into your daily life:
Watch a funny movie
Watch stand up comedy on Netflix or better yet go to a live comedy show
Read comic strips and keep a few favorites on hand
Play with your children
Hang out with friends who make you laugh
Watch funny You Tube videos
Listen to a funny podcast
Tell a funny story
Try a laughter yoga class
My own journey to include more fun in my life inspired me to write this blog article. Over recent months I started taking a comedy workshop series and it has made a noticeable difference on my own mood, outlook and energy level. Now more than ever I realize the importance of creating time for fun and just plain silliness which I was neglecting with tasks I viewed as being higher priorities.
Now that you have been reminded of some of the mental health benefits of increasing the laughter in your life, perhaps you will find time to add even a little more humor, laughter and silliness to your own self-care plan just because it is fun and feels good!
I look forward to hearing from those of you who have additional ways to bring laughter and fun into your daily lives!
Griffin, R. M. Give your Body a Boost with Laughter.
Laughter is the Best Medicine: The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter
Muller, R.T. LOL: How Laughter Can Improve Your Health.
Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke
Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health
World Laughter Tour
Erin Graves, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker and Certified Meditation Instructor at the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma. In addition to meditation and mindfulness instruction, she is a pre-licensed therapist who enjoys working with college students, teachers, healthcare professionals and others in helping professions. Her areas of specialty include stress reduction, social anxiety, panic disorder, life transitions, caregiver support, grief and bereavement support. For more information please visit her page at: http://www.anxietytraumatherapy.com/erin-graves/