Laughter As Medicine: Helps With Depression, Stress And Affects The Heart. According To Psychiatrists, It Is A Supermedicine
Renowned Czech psychiatrist Karel Nešpor talks about the positive effects of laughter. He also wrote several professional studies about the topic.
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We don't always feel like laughing. You probably also experience mood swings, feelings of anxiety, sadness from time to time. In some, these can develop into depression, one of the most common mental illnesses that negatively affects practically every aspect of life – what you experience, how you look, how you make decisions and how you act.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 280 million people suffer from depression worldwide, most of whom do not receive any treatment. The reasons include the lack of professionals in the field, but also the social stigma that is still (unfortunately) associated with mental health problems.
Laughter as a cure for depression?
The situation in the world in the field of mental health has been a problem for a long time, but in recent years it has been significantly worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. According to data from the World Health Organization, the incidence of depression and anxiety increased by 25 percent in the first year of the pandemic alone. But the consequences of the pandemic can actually be much more profound. "The information we have today about the impact of covid-19 on mental health is only the tip of the iceberg," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in March of this year. Young people and women were the most affected.
If you have mental health problems or experience excessive stress from everyday life, don't be afraid to talk about it and consider seeking therapy. What you are experiencing, others are also experiencing. As a supplement to professional help, there are also other methods through which you can significantly benefit your psyche, for example, laughter. As a number of scientific studies have shown, laughter has a major impact on our overall health and quality of life and can help us not only psychologically, but even physically.
The renowned Czech psychiatrist Karel Nešpor, who has also published several books on the healing effects of laughter, described for Refresher how important laughter is for your mental and physical health. "With a certain degree of simplification, it can be said that cheerfulness, laughter and smiles benefit everything. Stress causes or complicates most diseases, and laughter, smiles and cheerfulness, on the contrary, calm them down. This will strengthen immunity, improve digestion, relieve pain, benefit the psyche and sleep, improve the quality of life and so on," Nešpor described the positive effects of laughter.
Brain and laughter
Laughter helps you flush out dopamine, also known as the happy hormone. This also makes laughter or laughter therapy one of the non-invasive, alternative methods of treating depression and helping with stress management. In addition, a British study showed that laughter can provide pain relief. The positive effects of laughter are scientifically based and its benefits are one of the main reasons why professional hospital clowns try to make child patients laugh. After all, even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed laughter as a treatment more than two thousand years ago.
And what actually happens in the brain when we laugh and have fun? "It is necessary to distinguish between laughter and smiles, humor and cheerfulness. Laughter and smiling are projected in areas of the brain that are related to movement. Humor usually brings together things that are distant or contradictory. Happiness is a healthy emotion and affects subcortical structures, endocrine glands, the autonomic nervous system and the whole body. From a health point of view, the most important thing is cheerfulness. The most frequently used and safest way to cheerfulness leads through a smile," explains Nešpor.
Another interesting feature of laughter is its contagiousness. Just seeing someone else laugh or smile can make us laugh (or at least smile). This was also confirmed by a 2013 study involving 128 people who were played recordings of laughter. Most of the test subjects subsequently stated that they themselves began to laugh or smile when they heard the laughter. With repeated listening, this reaction already decreased, but even so, the researchers confirmed their initial hypothesis that just the laughter that we hear and see in other people can make us laugh too.
For a relatively long time, the positive effects of laughter, especially in the treatment of depression, were not given enough scientific attention, but this has started to change dramatically over the last few decades. We already know that laughter helps in the treatment of depression and other psychological problems. According to a 2010 study, depression and laughter have been shown to interact—depression reduces the frequency of laughter in people, and laughter reduces the severity of depression. According to scientists, laughter also helps to better establish or strengthen relationships and contacts between people, which can again contribute to reducing symptoms of depression. At the same time, laughing also reduces the stress level.
Choking problems are not a matter of choice and can affect anyone at any age, young or old. And just because someone is laughing doesn't mean they aren't depressed. Laughter can be used in therapy, but as experts point out, patients should not perceive laughter as a tool to minimize their problems.
For example, the so-called laughter yoga can be described as a certain form of therapy to reduce the symptoms of depression. According to a 2011 study conducted on a sample of women of retirement age, it contributed to a significant reduction in depression and an improvement in their quality of life. What is also interesting is that the group of women who engaged in physical exercise had equally good results.
Laughter also benefits the heart
Laughter also has a major impact on physical health. A number of studies in the past have described that negative emotional states can have a bad effect on our body, for example, they can increase the risk of cardiovascular complications. But is it the other way around? Can laughter and good humor reduce this risk? It turns out it is.
Information about the beneficial effects of laughter on the human body was provided, for example, by a 2010 study that focused on the relationship between laughter and heart function. A group of seventeen adults aged between 23 and 42 were tasked with first watching a half-hour comedy show and the following days a documentary of the same length, while researchers measured their heart rate and blood pressure. The results showed that laughter induced by entertainment shows actually benefited heart function.
Another study that looked at the relationship between laughter and the cardiovascular system came to similar conclusions. Even in this case, scientists have confirmed that laughter can play an important role in relation to heart health and reducing stress levels.
A study on a sample of 52 healthy adult men who watched an hour-long comedy video found that laughter – induced by humor – also supports the production of so-called NK cells. They are part of the immune system, protect the body against viruses, destroy attacked cells and also play a role in protection against the development of cancer. Support for the formation of NK cells through laughter was also confirmed by a 2003 study conducted on healthy adult women.
When is laughter dangerous?
But as they say, too much of everything is harmful. This also applies to laughter, especially if a person with health problems indulges in hearty diaphragmatic laughter.
“There are some problems with a hearty diaphragmatic laugh. Firstly, it cannot be used always and everywhere. And then there are certain contraindications. It should not be practiced, for example, by people with a hernia, shortly after surgery in the abdominal cavity, with serious heart disease, emphysema, uterine prolapse or in more advanced pregnancy. People with glaucoma or bleeding in the eye area should consult with an eye doctor about whether or not laughing a lot will benefit them. But that's about hearty belly laughs. A good mood and a smile almost always help," advises a respected doctor.
"Personally, I value a smile more than a loud laugh. After all, my book from 2021 was called 'Smile and step away' and the next one, which is published at the end of September 2022, is called '300 smiles for a better life'," he points out.
How to make yourself laugh?
But what to do when we are not happy and nothing makes us smile? There is advice for that too. We don't always need external influences to put us in a better mood. We can achieve this on purpose, by ourselves. Psychiatrist Nešpor recommends using one relatively simple technique for this.
"The absolute basis is the fox (Duchenne's) smile. During brain research, it was found that it is the one that best induces cheerfulness. The circular muscle surrounding the eyes slightly tightens. Contract this muscle until fine lines form at the corners of your eyes. Relax the jaw so that the teeth do not touch and pull the corners of the mouth diagonally upwards towards the ears. There is logic to this smile. A loose jaw shows that we will not bite anyone. Narrowed eyes are again related to a sense of security. Laughing and smiling on purpose is possible and helpful. We often need laughter and smiles the most in situations when we don't really feel like laughing," concludes Nešpor.
So can we call laughter medicine?
Laughter can help us in almost all areas. It is also necessary to remind, that laughing alone will not solve all the ailments of the body and mind, especially when it comes to problems of a more serious nature. If you have depression or other psychological problems, laughter can alleviate the symptoms, but even so, it is advisable to seek professional help in these cases. Laughing is sometimes difficult, but laughter is important for coping with difficult situations. It is not for nothing that they say that everything goes better with a smile.
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