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Laugh…It’ll Do Wonders for Your Pain

“A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Living with chronic pain can be a real downer. It’s easy to get sucked into a whirlwind of negative feelings and emotions and ultimately be anxious and depressed. But there are self-care practices that can be very healing and uplifting to avoid the circling negative feelings.

Laughter is one practice that helps. We’ve all heard the quote, “Laughter is the best medicine.” There are quite a few quotes out there about it. But is it true just because people are saying it? Like many old wives’ tales, there is a scientific basis for laughter and healing. 

Laughter releases endorphins, which is the body’s natural response to pain. Endorphins, also known as your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters can help to improve your mood, reducing stress and pain. The actual act of laughing increases circulation to your organs in your body because you have to breathe more deeply to laugh. Laughter also reduces your stress hormone, cortisol, preventing its negative effects and helps to boost your immune system. 

While you can take pills for chronic pain such as opioids to artificially trigger endorphins, because of the negative side effects and dependencies these drugs can cause, it’s important to do things to not rely on medication as much as possible

Here are some examples of things you can do to make you laugh:

  • Tell a joke
  • Watch funny movies or shows
  • Recount funny family memories
  • Play with pets or young children and just watch the funny things they do
  • Make silly faces
  • Practice laughing and keep doing it until you are feeling it
  • Talk with a friend that you enjoy sharing humor with

There is scientific research that supports self-care practices that can improve pain and other pain-related symptoms with laughter. A scientific review of pain and humor research identified that studies have shown that humor can help people cope with chronic pain and its associated emotional distress. [i] Watching a comedy was shown to increase pain tolerance compared to watching a documentary. [ii] Laughter yoga significantly improved depression and anxiety in post-menopausal women. [iii]

I was very fortunate that my side of the family has always laughed a lot. This is one of my fondest family qualities. We had our share of jokesters, and when I think of my grandmother, I just “laugh”. She was so funny and always brought fun games and said and did funny things when we took vacations with her, which made that time so special and memorable. I remember how this got me through a time where I had knee pain and had to have surgery and took a trip.

There is scientific research that supports self-care practices that can improve pain and other pain-related symptoms with laughter. A scientific review of pain and humor research identified that studies have shown that humor can help people cope with chronic pain and its associated emotional distress. [i] Watching a comedy was shown to increase pain tolerance compared to watching a documentary. [ii] Laughter yoga significantly improved depression and anxiety in post-menopausal women. [iii]

So what should you do when you have chronic pain? Take up a self-care practice like laughter. It can put you in a better mood and help you manage your pain. As Norman Cousins said, “Laughter serves as a blocking agent. Like a bulletproof vest, it may help protect you against the ravages of negative emotions that can assault you in disease

References:

[i] Pérez-Aranda A, Hofmann J, Feliu-Soler A, Ramírez-Maestre C, Andrés-Rodríguez L, Ruch W, Luciano JV. Laughing away the pain: A narrative review of humour, sense of humour and pain. Eur J Pain. 2019 Feb;23(2):220-233. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1309. Epub 2018 Sep 30. PMID: 30176100.

[ii] Lapierre SS, Baker BD, Tanaka H. Effects of mirthful laughter on pain tolerance: A randomized controlled investigation. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019 Oct;23(4):733-738. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2019.04.005. Epub 2019 Apr 13. PMID: 31733755.

[iii] Armat MR, Emami Zeydi A, Mokarami H, Nakhlband A, Hojjat SK. The impact of laughter yoga on depression and anxiety among retired women: a randomized controlled clinical trial. J Women Aging. 2020 Jun 18:1-12. doi: 10.1080/08952841.2020.1774225. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32552530.

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