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Stress Management

Humor Therapy

Humor is a wonderful stress-reducer and antidote to upsets. It is clinically proven to be effective in combating stress, although the exact mechanism is not known. Experts say a good laugh relaxes tense muscles, speeds more oxygen into your system and lowers your blood pressure. So tune into your favorite sitcom on television/vcd . Read a funny book. Call a friend and chuckle for a few minutes. It even helps to force a laugh once in a while. You'll find your stress melting away almost instantly. Americans were attracted to humor from the stories of Norman Cousins, who had successfully overcome cancer by watching comedy shows on television. These days, there are organized humor meetings even in places where laughing in public is not considered good manner.

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, has produced carefully controlled studies showing that the experience of laughter lowers serum cortisol levels, increases the amount of activated T lymphocytes, increases the number and activity of natural killer cells, and increases the number of T cells that have helper/ suppresser receptors. In short, laughter stimulates the immune system, off-setting the immunosuppressive effects of stress.

We know that, during stress, the adrenal gland releases corticosteroids (quickly converted to cortisol in the blood stream) and that elevated levels of these have an immunosuppressive effect. Berk's research demonstrates that laughter can lower cortisol levels and thereby protect our immune system.

The emotions and moods we experience directly effect our immune system. A sense of humor allows us to perceive and appreciate the incongruities of life and provides moments of joy and delight. These positive emotions can create neurochemical changes that will buffer the immunosuppressive effects of stress.
In his book, ' Stress without Distress,' Selye suggested that a person's interpretation of stress is not dependent solely on an external event, but also depends upon the perception of the event and the meaning he or she gives it. So, how you look at a situation determines if you will respond to it as threatening or challenging.
Humor gives us a different perspective on our problems. If we can make light out of the situation, it is no longer threatening to us. We already discounted its effect. With such an attitude of detachment, we feel a sense of self-protection and control in our environment. Bill Cosby is fond of saying, "If you can laugh at it, you can survive it."

It's sometimes difficult to force a laugh in tense situations. But that's precisely when you need it most. One trick for finding humor in the worst of situations is to blow things absolutely, ridiculously out of proportion. When your scenario reaches the point of absurdity, you begin to smile. The situation is put in perspective. Now you can calm down.

I have recently attended a talk and a workshop conducted by Dr. Paul McGhee, who specializes in humor as a stress remedy. A belly laugh is really good for you. It relieves muscular tension, improves breathing, and regulates the heart beat. Watch comedy shows and laugh. Or attend comedy shows. Read comics or humor books. Share funny episodes with your spouse so that both can relieve stress as well improve communication between the two of you.

More details on humor as a remedy for stress can be found in our Humor Therapy Section on where you will also find an article contributed by Paul McGhee, author of "Health, Healing and the Amuse System."