Laughter Therapy to Fight Depression

Patient: I have a problem doctor. I feel depressed and worthless.
Doctor: You should cut down on your drinks.
Patient: I don't drink and have never touched a drop in my life.
Doctor: You should cut down on your smoking.
Patient: I don't smoke either doctor.
Doctor: You should cut down on womanizing.
Patient: Good heavens!! Haven't touched a woman in my entire life.
Doctor: Your problem is you have no problems!! Get yourself a drink, learn to smoke, and find a couple of girlfriends and you will be alright.

Therapeutic Effects of Laughter

Plato's remark that "Even the Gods love jokes." must be correct, for the value of laughter is recorded in sacred scripture. For example, the Koran states that "He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh." By the fourteenth century, the healing power of humor was recognized by the medical community. An important French surgeon, Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), wrote, "Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient's life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him, and by having someone tell him jokes."

However, extensive research on 'laughter therapy' did not begin until after the New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Norman Cousins in 1976. Later, in 1979, this article became the first chapter of his book, 'Anatomy of an Illness.' In it he explained how he was diagnosed in 1964 with ankylosing spondylitis (also known as spondylitis, AS, or Bechterew Disease). The disease usually results in acute inflammation of the spine and can affect other areas of the body as well. Norman Cousins' case was so severe that he was given a one in five hundred chance of recovery and a few months to live.

Realizing that negative thoughts and attitudes can result in illness, he reasoned that positive thoughts and attitudes may have the opposite effect. So he left the hospital and checked into a hotel where he took mega doses of vitamin C and watched humorous movies and shows, including 'Candid Camera' and the Marx Brothers. He found that ten minutes of boisterous laughter resulted in at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He continued his routine until he recovered. Thus, he proved that laughter is the best medicine, and pointed the way to mind-body medicine.

William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and expert on health and laughter, reports the average kindergarten student laughs 300 times a day. Yet, adults average just 17 laughs a day. Why the difference? Are we too uptight, too tense? Do we take life too seriously? Isn't it time we learned how to relax? We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing. So, if we want to fly like the angels and share in their happiness, we'll have to follow their example and take ourselves lightly.

Our five senses are not enough for ideal living. We need to use our sixth sense: our sense of humor. Humor isn't about merely telling jokes; it's the way we view the world. We can be sincere about life without taking it so seriously. We can laugh about our mistakes and pain. Louis Kronenberger explains: "Humor simultaneously wounds and heals, indicts and pardons, diminishes and enlarges; it constitutes inner growth at the expense of outer gain, and those who posses and honestly practice it make themselves more through a willingness to make themselves less."


Recent Research
I'm absolutely healthy... The voices in my head agreed as well.
Presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Orlando, Florida, the two studies showed how psychological factors could affect a person's health.

”We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system,” said Dr Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

In the experiment, researchers showed two movies, one humorous and the other stressful to 20 healthy volunteers and monitor the blood vessels’ reaction. The researchers specifically looked at the endothelium, the linking of the vessels, and found that the blood flow was reduced 35% in 14 of the 20 volunteers after watching the stressful movie clips. However in 19 of the 20 volunteers who laughed at the funny movie segments, blood flowed 22% more freely.

“The endothelium is the first line in the development of the atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given the result of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease”. Miller said.

“The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise”.


Laughter against Depression
I was depressed last night so I called Lifeline. They've got a call center in Pakistan. I told them I was suicidal. They got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.
Laughter can be a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety – without a prescription and without side effects.  Laughter relieves tension, improves our sense of well-being, serves as an outlet for anger and provides a healthy escape from reality.

Research has proven the benefits of laughter for our mental health. In one study, says Faiz Qadri, MD, director of the Creighton University Mood Disorders Clinic, movie-watching patients who watched only comedies for three months had measurably more enhanced positive attitude and social interaction than patients who watched a variety of types of movies. “I recommend to my patients that they watch a comedy every week,” he says.

Our brains actually process laughter to produce mood-lifting brain chemicals. “Laughter causes our body to release a bath of serotonin and other "feel good" chemicals into the blood stream and opens us up to experiencing a situation differently,” says Tian Dayton PhD, author of Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance. “It reduces at least four of the neuroendocrine hormones associated with the stress response: epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone.”

Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are depressed, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.
If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.
Here are some of the ways laughter can help you:

* Laughter may strengthen the immune system by activating cells that attack viruses.
* Laughing may lower blood pressure for some by inducing relaxation and preventing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.
* Some describe laughter as “internal jogging” as you inhale oxygen which stimulates heart and blood circulation.
* Laughter can trigger the release of endorphins which give you a sense of well being. These endorphins are also natural painkillers.
* It is possible that the stimulation of particular cerebral regions, involved in depression pathogenesis, and the normalization of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system dysfunctions, both mediated by laughter, can counteract efficiently depressive symptoms.
* Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety because it naturally relaxes you. Laughter induces your heart rate to slow down and your blood pressure to decrease.
* Some experts say that laughter increases our creativity as it encourages a new perspective to look at things.
* Laughing with others may be the best way to reap the benefits of laughter as it improves our mood through social connection and an increased feeling of belonging. Laughing with friends can decrease feelings of alienation and lowers our risk for depression.


Laughter Yoga

One of the first things to go when you're depressed is your sense of humor. Nothing is funny, even things that previously made you roll on the floor laughing. When the brain's chemistry is out of balance, it's more difficult to make that humor connection.

Laughing at a comedian on TV or watching a funny movie can provide a little lift in mood but some take it a step further and believe that regular group sessions where you laugh with others can be a therapeutic treatment for depression. There is a method called “Laughter Yoga” which is gaining ground as a credible treatment for depression and anxiety. Laughter Yoga concentrates on the purely physical aspects of laughter. You can just start laughing, even if you don't feel like it. You can learn to laugh for no reason. To do this, begin with some fake laughter. It's always better with 2 or more people, because as you look each other in the eye, you just start to laugh more.

Laughter yoga groups around the world are coming together to participate in exercises which combine yoga techniques with forced laughter. The people who run such groups believe that you don’t need to laugh at a joke to reap the benefits of laughter. For example, participants in the Pasadena Laughter Club chant, “Ho-Ho-Hah-Hah-Hah!” as they march and clap to the rhythm. This is no comedy club and the members laugh for no reason as a part of this unique therapy.  “Fake it until you make it” is the mantra of the creator of laughing yoga, Dr.Madan Kataria, who is otherwise known as “the Guru of Giggling” by his followers. Dr. Kataria has been quoted as saying, “Laughter cannot solve your problems but it can give you the energy to face your problems, to look at life in a different light, a positive light.”

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