Here is a summary of the various ways how laughter impacts stress. Stress is a well-known slow killer, is rampant in our society, and is very expensive on all levels. Its mechanisms are complex. It impacts everybody differently, but its end-result is easy to observe and explain. It creates havoc in the human body, leads to depression, kills creativity, isolates people when they most need social connections and slowly destroys one’s self-esteem. Stress cannot be ignored.
- Laughter triggers the release of a cocktail of happy chemicals that boosts the immune responses, particularly components related to anti-viral and anti-tumor defenses. This cocktail includes NK cells, endorphins, serotonin, growth hormone, interferon-gamma (IFN) and a host of other beneficial substances produced naturally every time we laugh heartily for extended periods.
- Laughter diminishes the secretion of cortisol and epinephrine, while enhancing immune reactivity.
- Laughter boosts secretion of growth hormone, an enhancer of key immune responses.
- Laughing leads to the release of endorphins, a self-manufactured natural opiate that has been scientifically shown to carry messages of attachment and bonding (the scientific terms for love), and to stimulate feelings of caring and forgiveness in addition to acting as a natural painkiller. Endorphins create a positive state of mind and boost optimism, self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.
- By enhancing the free flow of emotions, laughter can help dislodge blocked emotions stored in the body. Suppressed or blocked emotions can cause ongoing physical, mental and emotional problems and stress. Their release can be life-changing. Laughter provides an excellent non-violent method for emotional release and catharsis.
- Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
- Expect to be far less tense and anxious after a Laughter Wellness or Laughter Yoga session! By increasing endorphins (hormones which assuage the sympathetic nervous system) laughter facilitates a state of peace in the body.
- Laughter is a natural antidote to many of the illness-causing effects of stress.
Relevant studies on laughter and stress
After watching a comic film, laughter reduced serum cortisol levels, increased salivary chromogranin A (CgA) levels, and increased ordinary excretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
- Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Bittman BB, Westengard J. Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7 (2):62-72, 74-76.
- Berk LS, Tan SA, Fry WF, e al. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci. 1989;298 (6):390-396.
- Berk LS, Tan SA, Nehlsen-Cannarella SL, et al. Humor associated laughter decreases cortisol and increases spontaneous lymphocyte blastogenesis. Clin Res. 1988;36:435A.
- Toda M, Kusakabe S, Nagasawa S, Kitamura K, Morimoto K. Effect of laughter on endocrinological stress marker chromogranin A. Biomed Res. 2007;28 (2):115-118.
- Levi L. The urinary output of adrenalin and noradrenalin during pleasant and unpleasant emotional states: a preliminary report.Psychosom Med. 1965 Jan-Feb; 27:80-85.
Behavior of perceptual anticipation of mirthful laughter decreased serum cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac. Berk LS, Tan SA, Berk D. Cortisol and catecholamine stress hormone decrease is associated with the behavior of perceptual anticipation of mirthful laughter [abstract]. FASEB J. 2008;22 (Meeting abstracts):946.11.
Humor desensitization reduced fear as effectively as traditional techniques. Ventis WL, Higbee G, Murdock SA. Using humor in systematic desensitization to reduce fear. J Gen Psychol. 2001;128 (2):241-253.
Laughter elevated breast-milk melatonin in both healthy and atopic eczema mothers. Kimata H. Laughter elevates the levels of breast-milk melatonin. J Psychosom Res. 2007;62 (6):699-702.
Laughter increased beta-endorphins and human growth hormones (HGH). Berk LS, Tan SA. [beta]-endorphin and HGH increase are associated with both the anticipation and experience of mirthful laughter [abstract], FASEB J. 2006;20 (4):A382.
Laughter may help dissipate tension, fear and frustration. Robinson V. The purpose and function of humor in OR nursing. Today’s OR Nurse. 1993;15 (6):7-12.
Laughter may reduce stress and improve NK cell activity. The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity, Mary P. Bennett, DNSc, RN, Janice M. Zeller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Lisa Rosenberg, PhD, RN, Judith McCann, DNSc, RN, Alt Ther, Mar/Apr 2003, Vol. 9, No. 2.
Laughter moderated stress or anxiety in healthy adults.
- Yovetich NA, Dale JA, Hudak MA. Benefits of humor in reduction of threat-induced anxiety. Psychol Rep. 1990;66 (1);51-58.
- Moore DB. Make them laugh. Therapeutic humor for patients with grief-related stress or anxiety. Adv Nurse Pract. 2000;8 (8):34-37.
Periods of intense laughter are followed by relaxed muscle tone or H-reflex depression.
- Paskind HA. Effects of laughter on muscle tone. Arch Neurol Psychiatry 1932;28 (3):623-628.
- Overeem S, Taal W, Ocal Gezici E, Lammers G, Van Dijk J. Is motor inhibition during laughter due to emotional respiratory influences? Psychophysiology. 2004;41 (2):254-258.