Anxious or Stressed? Try What Patch Adams Knew Best.

Category: Blog, Mental health & wellness

Did you know that children laugh eight times more frequently when they are with another child than when they’re watching a cartoon on their own? That’s the case even if they thought the cartoon was just as funny in both instances.

One study reports that children laugh on average three hundred times a day. I’m stunned by this statistic and started to wonder how many times a day I laugh. I love to see the humor in things, but I know I don’t laugh three hundred times a day.

A recent survey for Sky Media found that the average Briton laughs only three times a week and that 42 percent of the people polled couldn’t remember the last time they laughed out loud.

Some might attribute this statistic to the weather, but our moods are affected by weather extremes only in the short term. Eventually we learn to adapt, says Dr. Nigel Barber. A better explanation is that our brains can’t help themselves.

Mirror neurons fire when we perform an action and see others doing the same. When we hear laughter, we want to laugh too. This also happens with communication styles and nonverbal behaviors. If someone smiles or frowns when they speak, we tend to match interaction styles. 

When we’re stressed, the sympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for our fight-or-flight response is activated. In contrast, laughter activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and rejuvenation.

Think about events when you’ve been stressed or anxious and had a good laugh in the midst it. Laughter positively affects your nervous system, which actually helps you think and see more clearly.

Laughter also produces endorphins, our happy hormones. It’s as effective, if not maybe more, as any squeeze ball or punching bag for managing stress and anxiety.

What to do? There are laughter yoga classes popping up all over the place. Yes, you basically fake it until you make it. Start with a small chuckle and gradually increase the intensity. It feels forced, but the practice is the intent.

You’re sending signals to your brain. Some practices start with just repeating “ho-ho-ho, ha-ha-ha.” That’s usually when our mental chatter really gets activated. Our mind wants to get in the way. Not to worry; it’s normal. Just focus on the joyful feeling laughing brings.

There’s more! The U.S. Preventive Medicine site also suggests catching up on your favorite comedy show, playing with children or pets, hosting game night with friends, looking for humor in stressful situations, sharing a good joke or funny, and, of course, spending time with people who make you laugh.

Still not convinced? Consider the fact that laughter strengthens your immune system, relaxes your muscles, reduces pain, improves brain function, is good for your lungs and heart, and is great for your mental and emotional health!

I can’t help but think of Hunter Doherty Adams—better known as Patch Adams—a physician, comedian, social activist, clown, and author. If you’re familiar with the movie or his work, then you know he’s a firm believer in the healing powers of laughter and humor. 

In the spirit of Patch Adams, let’s ask the question “Can we shift our environments to invite laughter into our daily lives?” Let’s cure ourselves of weeks and months of perpetual seriousness. Let’s remember that while our work has purpose and value, so does our mental and physical health. And that means making room for grins, chuckles, and a few belly laughs.

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