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