Laugh More, Stress Less: How Laughter Lowers Cortisol and Increases Endorphins

Editor’s Note: We’re happy to welcome Sarah Jones’ blog contribution about how laughter can benefit you wherever you are … even during a long business trip. If you don’t believe her, click the supporting links to see what science has to say: it totally backs her claim that laughter is the best medicine for a weary traveler. 


The word “work” does not really elicit any sort of laughter out of anyone, but it is high time that you try to infuse some giggles into your professional routine? Why? Because new research suggests that the old adage of laughter being the best medicine might just hold some truth in it.

Laughter may truly be the missing essential piece for the weary business traveler, continually drained from the endless hustle and bustle of meetings and reports; perhaps a night out at the comedy club is just what the doctor ordered.

So get ready to embrace your inner comedian as the time has come to crack a joke to reduce stress, and just maybe you’ll manage to get your cranky coworkers to smile a little as well during a business trip. Here’s hoping for a miracle.

The science behind the smile:

In the immediate aftermath following a bout of giggles, a whole bunch of physical effects can occur within the human body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Firstly, it encourages the intake of oxygen through the increased breathing required to keep all of the guffawings going. This oxygen flows to the heart, lungs, and muscles to aid their movement until finally, endorphins are released into the bloodstream.

Secondly, laughter initiates a two-pronged assault on stress, initially by putting your stress response into overdrive and then by driving it back down again. This results in an altogether calmer state of mind. Thirdly, laughter encourages better circulation to your muscles and can ease the recovery of muscle strain and pain. This helps alleviate some of the physical signs of anxiety.

However, laughter isn’t just going to help you in the five minutes after you’ve managed to pick yourself up off the floor and attempted to unsuccessfully wipe the grin off your face. It actually has numerous benefits for you within the long run as further demonstrated by the Mayo Clinic.

Ever heard someone tell you to just think positively and then you won’t get sick? Well, as crazy as it may sound, there is some truth to this. When we are in a better frame of mind, we release neuropeptides, which have been known to combat feelings of stress and can aid in the fight against more serious ailments. A mindset that is decidedly not positive has been known to increase total stress and weaken the immune system.

Pain can be a fantastic reason to not want to smile, but research suggests that laughter works as a natural painkiller. When researchers attempted to test the pain threshold and its relationship with laughter, it was found that all participants’ ability to withstand pain was exponentially increased when they were laughing. Those with the highest scores were the ones who were tested in groups and not solo.

Improved relationship and work satisfaction can be found by those who regularly share a joke with their partners or colleagues. When Elizabeth Stack and fellow researchers looked at couples who reminisced about past memories involving a humorous moment, they found that these couples were happier than those who looked back on memories that didn’t involve laughter and weren’t continually laughing.

The final long-term benefit to laughter is that it leads to a better mood; this is especially crucial for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or chronic stress. In one study of depressed and suicidal members of elderly homes, individuals who made regular use of humor in order to cope with their environment were more likely to recuperate than those who did not.

A further, perhaps even more worthy benefit of laughter for those suffering from stress, is that it lowers your blood pressure and diminishes your propensity towards having a stroke or going into cardiac arrest. Another side benefit that, while may not be critical for health, is always nice to have, is that laughter works your abdominal muscles. So skip the crunches and hit the comedy club; you’ll get a six-pack eventually.

More ways to laugh today:

Well, probably the first step is to make laughter a priority. Like all medicine, it needs to be remembered to be taken on a  daily basis. This could be as simple as incorporating it into your morning routine, especially essential when routines are disrupted by work trips and school holidays. Why not subscribe to websites that send out funny news, buy a joke book, or look at old photos? After all, your early days are sure to make you laugh.

Follow a favorite comedian, because let’s just face it … if they do it for a living, they must be doing something right. Watch a funny TV show, or even better, read a funny book. Those are much better for your brain. Go and visit a  comedy club for your next evening out; perhaps you could even support your local school’s talent show. You never know where the next big thing is going to come from.

Travel more, and it doesn’t have to be to somewhere expensive either. By going on new experiences and bursting out of your comfort zone, you’re bound to be laughing it up in no time with new people you meet. This can all happen on your next business trip, so slot some much-needed sightseeing in between board meetings and increase your happiness.

Conclusion:

In summary, laughter might just be nature’s best medicine after all; with so many short and long term benefits, it is clear that this should be added to our daily regimen of vitamins and activities in order to live a healthy lifestyle. With the added superhuman abilities of increased pain tolerance and the greater likelihood of being able to fight off diseases, consider the possibility that the only thing standing in your way to improved health is a trip to the comedy club.

Bio: Sarah is the editor of Relax Everyday. She writes about meditation, relaxation, and techniques that help people achieve a happier, stress-free life.

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