Constantly coping with pain, hiding its intensity from others and trying to maintain hope despite so many fears, makes living with pain a tricky business [and a highly one stressful too].
Add the seemingly endless cornucopia of symptoms of CRPS and fibromyalgia, which include energy-zapping fatigue, nausea, pain-wired insomnia, and a brain that’s so clogged with fog – it’s a wonder we manage at all – and it swiftly becomes clear that anything which helps us see the lighter side of life is essential.
Whatever the cause of your pain, the old aphorism is a true one: laughter is powerful medicine and having a giggle really does help you cope with chronic illness and can even reduce your pain. Aside from the accompanying joy and relaxation, which is always key in lowering pain levels, laughter also releases those happy chemicals that are even more vital for chronic pain patients.
Humour helps create distance from our everyday challenges, creating a more positive attitude. Seeing the joy, blessings and humour in things can be a far finer vantage point from which to view life, especially a life so irrevocably challenged and altered by chronic illness and pain. There may be many things you long to change but for now, having a good giggle may be just the thing to lift you out of a darker space, distract you from the incessant pain and help your overall well-being ta boot.
There is clearly nothing funny about being in pain itself but research now confirms that laughter offers a wealth of benefits for those living with chronic pain. Laughter is immensely healing on every level, which makes ensuring that your life is graced with as much humour as possible a vital part of managing your condition and pain.
Ways That Laughter Heals
Laughter is clinically proven to have many powerful effects on physical, emotional health and well-being. It can helps you relax, reduces stress, and also helps people be more compassionate and open-hearted, making it easier to reach out to others. Laughter reduces depression and provides welcome distraction from the evil pain. It also triggers many additional healing processes that can benefit your entire being.
The boost to the immune system alone is worth the guffaw, snorting and tears rolling down your cheeks. Laughter is immensely therapeutic for body, mind and soul with the added benefit of being free and especially joyful too. In fact, nothing works more swiftly or more dependably to bring the mind and body back into balance than having a good giggle.
But it’s no fun being ill and in pain, what could we possibly laugh about? Finding humour may be a task in itself but a rewarding one, which swiftly becomes second nature (anyone who knows me knows that I laugh a lot and really quite loudly). Try the suggestions at the end of the piece to generate more giggles.
You don’t have to be happy to get the benefits, the body and mind can be fooled in countless ways and you can feel better just by the physical act of faking laughter. If you’re in a blah mood, or better yet, in a lousy why-won’t-this-ever-end mood, do this silly [but effective] experiment:
- Smile and do the ‘ha ha ha’ of laughing (fully aware that this sounds daft but stick with me here…)
- Keep going for a couple of minutes, really laugh from deep in your belly.
- As soon as you begin, you’re generating the happy chemicals and you will feel better.
- I was first shown this ‘technique’ (!) at a Taoist workshop with Master Mantak Chia. He called it ‘Laughing Chi Kung’ – and there was a whole room full of people cackling, giggling and generally cracking up. It was hilarious.
Try it – a study in Spain showed that self-induced laughter has the same effects on the body, and releases the same beneficial hormones, as spontaneous laughter. Maybe try it when alone though, to save any sideways glances and odd looks!
Laughter inspires hope, connects you with others, benefits your body, liberates your spirit and helps you have an especially good time. With so much power to heal and renew, here’s why you should embrace the healing power of laughter…
Helps You Take Yourself Less Seriously
Chronic illness brings so many challenges that can easily get the better of you; when you become the problems and take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box to find solutions. One essential characteristic of people who laugh more often is not taking themselves too seriously.
Look for the humour in bad situations and uncover the irony and illogicality of life. It helps improve your mood and that of those around you. Many things in life are beyond your control, particularly when living with pain.
Some events are clearly sad and not occasions for laughter, but many events in life don’t carry an overwhelming sense of dread or delight. They fall somewhere in the middle, giving you the choice to see humour and blessings should you choose to.
Spend time with people who laugh easily – both at themselves and at life’s absurdities – and who routinely find the humour in everyday events; a playful point of view, like laughter, is contagious. Obviously, chronic pain and illness can make any kind of social life a distant memory but trying to connect with others is paramount to your well-being.
Connecting with those who enjoy life [in spite of its many challenges] is healing to everyone.
The ability to laugh, or at least smile, when times get tough, can go a long way in improving your mood and outlook. Even in the most difficult of times, humour is one of the finest ways to reduce stress and anxiety, while increasing your resilience and ability to cope. It helps you have an optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments and loss, all of which are sadly part of living with severe pain and chronic illness.
More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Laughter has also been found to help us to focus on solutions to problems and challenges, and achieve more productive outcomes.
Stephanie Davies, author of Laughology: The Science of Laughter and a behaviourist, is pioneering a project in Bradford to promote resilience and help people cope in difficult situations. “In an ideal world it would be great if we were all happy all of the time but we are not, we are human beings and it is healthy to be sad.” What really counts, she says, is the way people cope with difficulties.
“The real key to happiness is to enable people to be more resilient and to feel more supported by one another and to have friendlier communities.” Laughology aims to get people to remember ‘laughter triggers’ – funny memories – to help them feel positive.
“If we laugh we feel better about a situation, if we see something in a different way and find the humour in it we can almost take a mental step back from it and not be so negatively emotionally involved,” adds Stephanie.
Eases Pain [and Helps You Cope with It]
Many studies validate the pain relieving effects of laughter. Further studies also show that watching comedy films assists both children and adults to tolerate pain more easily. An Oxford University study in 2011 found that after watching comedy videos, people could withstand 10 per cent more pain than before watching the videos, showing that laughter increases our pain threshold. The test subjects [who watched the funny videos] had a higher pain threshold compared to those who watched videos of the un-side-splitting variety.
The most pain-reliving type of laughter is that spontaneous belly laugh, as opposed to a little titter. When you explode in a fit of giggles it releases the highest amount of endorphins. If you don’t feel like laughing because you’re in pain and neither pills nor therapies seem to make it better, try the suggestions at the end, such as watching a comedy film to encourage producing your own pain-reducing endorphins. As little as 15 minutes of laughter was enough to increase pain tolerance by 10 per cent.
Can Stimulate the Body Similar to Exercise
Laughing hard exercises the muscles and organs and increases intake of much-needed oxygen. The heart beats faster, pushing the oxygen through the veins and to every part of the body, and the facial muscles, stomach, lungs, and heart all have a workout. Laughter improves blood circulation, digestion, metabolism and elimination of toxic substances from the body. By increasing blood distribution to muscles and brain, it also improves function.
It even appears to burn calories, too. Vanderbilt University researcher Maciej Buchowski conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. Based on his findings, 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories. Sadly it’s not as effective as being active and exercising, though for those with physical limitations and severe pain, laughter really is true medicine.
Helps You Fall Asleep
Having a good laugh prior to sleep reduces stress and anxiety, promoting a deeper, more restful sleep, even in patients with sleeping difficulties. “Belly laughter saved my life” said Norman Cousins, after having difficulties sleeping due to chronic pain from an accident. Norman took to laughing for 10 minutes to have at least two hours of pain-free sleep, which may sound humble to those mysterious healthy folk but as everyone with CRPS or a complicated pain condition knows, sleep can be gold dust.
Laughter provides a mild aerobic workout, which may energize you in the short term but also helps you to sleep better through the night. Obviously, laughter alone can’t guarantee even the most tired and pained-up of princesses [and princes] a good kip, but it is worth ensuring your life is as filled with as much joy and laughter as possible for your overall well-being.
A little humour on the darker days can bring light to even the saddest of souls. Because laughter stimulates production of the happy hormone, serotonin, and also creates more endorphins; it puts us on a natural high, helping us take on a more positive perspective. Much has been written about endorphins, particularly serotonin, which has been found to be at far lower levels in fibromyalgia patients than our healthy counterparts.
Additionally, laughter provides an effective distraction from anxiety, sadness or anger. Allowing you to see situations in a less threatening light, it can help you find new perspective. This creates psychological distance, which can stop you feeling overwhelmed by your chronic pain and illness.
Humour gets you out of your head and away from your troubles, albeit temporarily, and the accumulative effect of laughing regularly increases your ability to cope. Depression also is often a sign that serotonin levels are far too low so welcome anything that increases serotonin in your body. The increased production of serotonin helps release muscle stress or tension which may account for why a really good laugh can leave you feeling as though your body has turned to jelly.
One option that I do myself, is to supplement with tryptophan, an essential amino acid (building block of protein) that the body converts into serotonin and melatonin. Best taken before sleep, the [very] happy side effects are accompanied by a reduction in pain. Increasing your intake of tryptophan-rich foods is beneficial. As this amino acid works best on an empty stomach (because it does not need to compete with other amino acids), if you take a supplement, do so last thing at night or first thing in the morning. For more on l-tryptophan and the alternative precursor, 5-htp, read more here.
Warning: Always contact your doctor before taking L-tryptophan or any other nutritional supplement: tryptophan is contraindicated if you take antidepressants, especially SRRIs.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
It is normal to focus on pain, but when pain is chronic and you are doing all you can do to manage it, paying too much attention to pain does make a difference and can even make the pain experience worse, increasing negative emotions including depression, anxiety, fear and overall stress. It’s unrealistic to suggest ignoring pain when it’s so intense but by bringing more humour into your life, you’ll find your ability to cope strengthened and anxiety reduced.
Anxiety, depression and stress weaken the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infection, but are sadly so often part of living in pain. But by laughing, you instantly suppress the release of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, while increasing the production of serotonin and endorphins, reducing effects of stress.
A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughing takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed and balanced perspective. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh – or even simply a smile – can go a long way toward making you feel better.
A study published by Berk et al in 2008 reported that anticipation of laughter reduced the levels of three stress hormones: cortisol, epinephrine or adrenaline; and dopac (a brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine). Showing that anticipation of humour appears to be every bit as important for reducing stress and boosting our immune system as actually laughing.
Strengthens Your Immune System
Positive emotions and laughter trigger the release of neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals enter the blood stream and plug in to the receptors on the surface of immune cells, altering the cell’s metabolic activity in a positive way. “Your immune system is boosted by up to 40 per cent,” explains laughter therapist Julie Whitehead, Great Ormond Street Hospital. Prolonged laughter has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve mental function.
Because the majority of your immune system and your serotonin are in your gut, the healthier your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the healthier your immune system and the more serotonin you’ll have. Because IBS is so frequently a complication of many pain conditions, the health of your gut becomes more vital, especially when already facing so many additional challenges.
Taking a good probiotic and including live yogurt in your diet is vital for chronic pain sufferers as no matter how immaculate your resilience and coping strategy, pain can and does get depressing. Laughing improves the body’s natural defence mechanisms by decreasing stress hormones and increasing the amount of immunoglobulin’s and T-cells cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
It also expands the arteries’ inner walls thus increasing the ability of blood to flow around the body, reducing heart disease. This positive effect also lasts for up to 45 minutes after laughing. A study at Indiana State with cancer patients also confirmed that laughter increases killer cell activity against cancer cells.
Benefits the Lungs
Lying down all the time is not ideal for your lungs, though often unavoidable during excruciating flare-ups of pain. Our breathing may be shallower and the inactivity due to disability and pain also reduces lung capacity.
In the throes of hysterical laughter, the respiratory system is stimulated by forcing us to take in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide, which makes our breathing deeper. Some experts believe it may also increase lung capacity. By having a laugh, we also take in more oxygen, which benefits health in many ways but particularly supports our lungs.
Strengthens Bonding to Others
The highly infectious sound of someone exploding in a fit of giggles is far more contagious than a cough or sniff [and a lot more fun]. When we share laughter, its beneficial effects magnify significantly.
A powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements and hurts, laughter can unite people during difficult times and renew relationships. Laughter causes the release of oxytocin. Often called the empathy hormone, oxytocin helps bond and connect people together.
Makes You Look Younger & is Good for Your Skin
Even the skin benefits from regular laughter. The temporary increase in blood flow and pressure, along with increased heart rate, causes the capillaries close to the skin to dilate in a similar way to when we exercise. As many as 15 facial muscles work together to help you smile and laugh. An increase in the intake of oxygen is also beneficial to your skin. One study found that laughter dilates the inner lining of our blood vessels, the endothelium, which is why it improves circulation.
Ways to Incorporate More Laughter into Your Life
- Read funny fiction: Goodreads is the ultimate resource in finding good books. Try these non-fiction funnies, also these fiction funnies. Connecting with other readers is always a good way to find great books.
- Search for comedy videos on You Tube – Whatever tickles your humour, save them in your watch list to view whenever you are feeling down or flared-up.
- Watch comedy films and television series: IMDB is a great resource. Also have a scroll through Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
- Watch stand-up comedy – personal favourites include: Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard, Russell Brand but whatever your individual tastes, take a peek at Comedy Central’s comedian list here and get a dose of the good stuff.
- Bring humour into conversations –Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?” Talking about what is funny, obscure, preposterous or just plain silly can relieve a little of the tension of the human spirit and heals in quite the loveliest way.
- Go to a comedy club: If you are physically able to get out of the house, visiting a comedy club is guaranteed to raise some giggles.
- Listen to comedy shows on the radio and internet stations
- Read the comics or find online sites with funny cartoons, illustrations, images. Social media is also a good source.
- Spend time with children: They are experts and living in the moment and taking life lightly. Children are estimated to giggle 300 times a day, spending time with the little people can lift even the saddest of hearts and help distract you from the pain.
- Smile more often – Like laughter, smiling is contagious and releases happy chemicals. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something pleasing, practice smiling.
- Surround yourself with things that bring joy – If you spend most of your day in bed or house-bound, put up a few funny and inspiring posters on your walls. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun. Surround yourself with things that please, nurture and remind you that there is still joy in living, even if the challenges are so great.
- Count your blessings – The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humour and laughter. There are always others in the world who are worse off. We may be in the worst kind of pain and missing the life we longed for but we have shelter, food, water too. Those are blessings. Gratitude is a beautiful thing. Now laugh and laugh some more.
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Read More Here…
Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
Beating Depression with Laughter
Laughter for Healing and Health
Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter
You’re Never Too Old for a Good Laugh
How Laughter Can Improve Your Health
Living in Pain: Laughing for the Health of it
I just wrote about laughing and chronic pain! =) I was feeling super down because of the pain and stress in my life right now. So, I looked on Netflix and found a cartoon that had me in stitches!! It was a wonderful feeling to let things go for a few minutes! My post is nowhere near as in depth as your’s is, but I did add one of the short episodes. Thanks for such an informative article! http://www.smfibromyalgia.com
You’re so welcome Valerie. Really happy you enjoyed it, and more so that you had a giggle 😉 I think it’s SO important. Life can be serious enough much less a life in continuous pain. I love that laughter is so physically healing too. I’m having trouble opening your link but may be the browser so will try again in a bit. Thanks for your lovely comment. ♥ x