When was the last time you really laughed? I don't mean a slight smirk; I mean a belly laugh so hard it hurts your abs and made you cry? Was it yesterday? Last week? Or maybe you can't remember? Who were you with or was it a TV show you were watching? Think back on this and we will come back to it in a moment.
Living with a chronic illness sucks. It just does. No need to sugar coat it like us Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, or other chronic illness patients tend to do to make others around us feel more comfortable. Days, months, even years, may go by where I am living on top of the world symptom-free, and then a flare up comes and knocks me off my feet. The real question is how do we manage this inevitability in our life? Knowing that stress is a direct cause of flare ups and inflammation, it is my job to manage this stress as much as possible. What I have found to be extremely helpful is, you guessed it, laughter. Yes, there are a thousand other things that we need to do to maintain our health, but laughter is a free and all-natural medication that curbs stress and has the potential to alleviate unwanted symptoms. Let’s be honest- if you can’t laugh about poop, what can you laugh about?
“Laughter activates the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s like internal jogging, providing a good massage to all internal organs while also toning abdominal muscles,” says Dr. Gulshan Sethi, head of cardiothoracic surgery at the Tucson Medical Center and faculty at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
Ever heard the age-old adage “Laughter is the best medicine”? It’s actually spot on! Several scientific studies have researched the effect of laughter on the human body and all ended with significant results. A study out of Loma Linda University showed that being exposed to humor, (compared to sitting silently) significantly lowers cortisol levels, our stress hormone, and improves memory recall ability. Vanderbilt University found that laughter helps you burn up to 40 calories a day and the University of Maryland discovered laughter can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Benefits of Laughter:
Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.
Quick Ways To Add Laughter To Your Day:
- Read the “funny papers” everyday. As a kid this is what I called the comics section of the newspaper. I found so much joy in reading every single comic strip while my parents poured over the rest of the newspaper. I encourage you to rediscover the child inside of you- I know he/she is still in there!- and read the comics every time you have access to a newspaper. Is that everyday? Once a week? You decide the frequency, but do it often. You will be surprised how much laughter you will get out of the newspaper comics as an adult!
- Spend time with friends. Carve out quality time on a regular basis to spend with friends who make you laugh so hard it hurts. I’m convinced that a hearty belly laugh can cure just about anything I’m dealing with in that moment.
- Find your funny. We all have different senses of humor, so find what really makes you giggle and add that to your daily routine, whether it is watching The Office, finding a local stand up comedy show, or reading Mindy Kaling’s new book.
- Practice laughing at yourself. This may take some practice, but try to laugh at what life throws you. When something goes wrong or life just isn’t going your way, laugh at it! Finding the humorous parts of your day help to relieve stress. Over the years of having ulcerative colitis, my family and I have developed an unsavory sense of humor to lighten up the mood when I’m in a flare up. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the situation, especially when it is out of your control.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. If you absolutely cannot find anything funny around you, start laughing anyway. (Maybe do this in your car or at home so people around you don’t think you are a crazy person haha) Start with forcing yourself to smile and then start laughing, even if for no reason at all. Eventually, you will laugh at yourself for laughing.
Now, let's go back to the last memory of you laughing so hard it hurt. Has it been a while or was it just yesterday? Try to make that a more common occurrence; plan your life in such a way that laughter is interwoven into it. This is not to say that you will face hardships along the way, but when you do face these hard times you will have an infrastructure of laughter to cushion you from the stress and the impact it can have on your health. This is a frontline defense to protect your health. So, take time today or sometime this week to find laughter in your life.