What common human activity relaxes tense muscles; reduces blood pressure and heart rate; exercises the muscles of the face, diaphragm and abdomen; boosts the immune system; and causes the body to release pain-fighting hormones? The answer: laughter. Sound impressive? And those are just the physical benefits. Laughter also helps you get some emotional distance from a distressing situation and see the humor in it.
Researchers have shown that laughter increases relaxation. Muscle tension remains low for up to 45 minutes after a session of vigorous laughter. Real belly laughter can relax the muscles more than a vigorous massage.
If you haven’t exercised your humor muscles lately you may benefit from these tips on getting them in shape:
- Find things that make you laugh and do them. See a funny movie, read a funny book, memorize a joke and tell it to friends.
- The next time you’re in a distressing situation, mentally put yourself in the shoes of your favorite comedian. What would David Letterman have to say about it? Bart Simpson? Humor depends on being able to see the humor where others only see aggravation. It’s the difference between tragedy and comedy.
- Allow a feeling of playfulness to creep into your life. Let your mind be open to silly and uncensored thoughts. What if everyone came to work wearing Groucho Marx glasses and a fake mustache?
- Amuse yourself by indulging in humorous exaggeration. Stuck in traffic? Think of cobwebs forming between your car and the next; continental drift passing you by, snails overtaking you on the shoulder.
- Share cartoons, jokes and other funny material at work. Put cartoons up on the bulletin board. By helping others reduce stress you make your own job easier. And people will just be more relaxed around you if they know you have a sense of humor.
- Get in the habit of laughing at life’s contradictions. You can bet your Groucho Marx glasses you’ll never run out of material.
- Finally, practice laughing at yourself. You just can’t help becoming more accepting of your own shortcomings, and that’s a sure-fire stress-buster.
Keep It Light
People will feel safe and comfortable around you if they know you can laugh – but not if you laugh at them. Humor that is cruel or sarcastic breeds a negative attitude in both the humorist and the audience. Stay on the light side. Life is funny enough without resorting to vicious humor.
Rx for Laughter
The next time you’re looking for an easy way to relieve stress in your life, try a dose of laughter. You can get it without a prescription–from Drs. Groucho Marx, Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld.