Humor healing

Celina Hutchens

Laughing helps burn calories, reduces stress

Laughter not only increases the oxygen to the body, it helps circulation and helps distract from stress. Comic books, comedy movies, internet cartoons and hanging out with friends are all good stress relieving sources. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JAMEON CAMPBE

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Now that the semester is ending, there is only one thing on many students’ minds – getting through finals week stress free.

Scientists have conducted studies and experiments on the effect of laughter on one’s physical and mental health. These studies concluded that when we laugh, there is an actual chemical change in our bodies that help to ease pain and relieve stress.

Maciej Buchowski, an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, conducted a study proving laughter is good exercise. He said laughing produces energy for the body.

“We discovered laughing out loud for 10 minutes a day burns between 10 to 40 calories,” Buchowski said. “We calculated that this is equal to 4.4 pounds a year lost if you do it every day.”

Stress on the body

Stress is one of the main reasons why many people are susceptible to sickness. It has been proven that stress depletes the immune system’s ability to fight against disease. Stressful events in life impact the body negatively and thus produce more stress. Although it would be hard to put all stressful events aside, a simple laugh could help in easing tensions.

The National Center for Farmworker Health developed some tips to relieving stress including taking deep breaths, exercising, thinking positive, listening to music, taking hot baths, getting a massage or talking with family members.

Laughter is the best medicine

One thing researchers notice about laughter is that it is something we seldom do alone.

“Laughter is 30 times more frequent in social than solitary situations,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. “In conversation, speakers are often more likely to laugh than listeners.”

Provine said a laugh is social play vocalization, or something used instinctively to send disarming cues to hold a listener’s attention and to direct the conversation.

“Women laugh most in the presence of men they find attractive,” he said. “Men are the leading laugh-getters and women are the leading laughers.”

Humor and distressing emotion cannot occupy the same psychological space, said Steven Sultanoff, a clinical psychologist and former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

“I discovered humor impacted the human condition in much the same way as therapy attempts to,” Sultanoff said. “Both change how someone feels, acts, thinks and even how they physiologically respond to the world. Since humor could have a similar impact to therapy, I realized how powerful it could be as a therapeutic tool.”

Sultanoff said work, either at a job or school, is often associated with stress. He said humor is a great stress reliever because it makes people feel good, and they can’t feel good and feel stress simultaneously.

“Laughter has been labeled a jogging and juggling of the internal organs,” he said. “When we laugh, we feel physically better, and after laughter we feel lighter and more relaxed.”

Kathleen Adamle, an assistant professor of nursing at Kent State, has researched humor in clinical settings relating it to the interaction of laughter responses between the nurse and patient. She said that most patients make fun of themselves as a way to hide the fact he or she is scared, and if you don’t laugh, that makes them more nervous.

“Patients would make fun of very personal things,” Adamle said. “They would tease and make fun of how they looked. Humor is about spontaneity and catching people off guard.”

She said there is no single definition of humor, and it is up to the nurse or care providers to communicate effectively or else the patients will shut down.

“Less than 40 percent of the time the nurse reacted to a joke,” she said. “If a nurse doesn’t respond to humor, then the patient suffers due to lack of interpersonal communication.”

Adamle said there are no nursing classes that teach humor with patients in the United States, but she makes sure her students know the importance of positive interactions at clinical settings.

Contact medicine reporter Celina Hutchens at [email protected].