The Voice of Experience: Laughter really is the best medicine

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Remember that old saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone”? Well, it’s true!

While laughter cannot always take away sadness, it can certainly help us feel better. Laughter definitely is good medicine. When we laugh, our lungs, heart, back and torso get a quick workout, and our arm and leg muscles are stimulated. And, after a good laugh, our blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension ease, leaving us more relaxed.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to laugh. Say we’re caught up in a traffic jam just when we’re on our way to a really important meeting. Maybe try a stress management trick that involves blowing the situation way out of proportion, to the point of being downright ridiculous. Back in the ’80s, I used this method to illustrate “perspective”.

An example: “These cars will be stuck here for hours. They’ll have to airlift us all out of here. But the time they get around to rescuing me, my kids will be all grown up and no one will even remember who I am!” Exaggeration changes our perspective on any situation, which naturally calms us, since stress is rarely caused by a situation but by how we perceive it.

Most of us know of, and use, various relaxation techniques — meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, music and many others. A good laugh — the kind that makes our eyes tear and our stomach hurt — can de-stress us just as well as relaxation can. Remember, if we stop seeing the value in laughter, we might just stop doing it. So be aware!

In a senior community such as the Creston Valley, people are often alone in their homes, and often don’t see or talk to people for days on end. Joining a support group like the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors, for instance, can not only make a person happier, but can also improve their mental and/or physical health.

Did you know that people in love suffer fewer colds and have white blood cells that more actively fight infections than the cells of non-lovers? And patients in one convalescent home were able to reduce substantially their doses of painkillers after four weeks of participating in a game where they took turns making each other laugh. So it seems that awareness, social support and love tend to make our immune systems healthier.

Each week when I do my grocery shopping, I take a cartoon or a written joke to the cashiers in the store. To see their eyes light up when I come in gives me quite a boost! And to hear them laughing as I get on with my shopping makes me smile, too. I’ve been told a couple of times how they look forward to getting a laugh — some days can be quite trying when dealing with customers. (We have all seen or heard examples of that, haven’t we?)

It’s important to smile and say hello to people on the street, most particularly to strangers. To make someone’s day a little brighter also makes our own a little brighter.

So, “love who and what you are and what you do each day. Laugh at yourself and at life, and nothing can touch you,” says Louise Hay in her book, You Can Heal Your Life.

And remember that the world laughs with you — even just the world of cashiers in the grocery store!

Mary Underhill is a stress therapist and grief counsellor. The Voice of Experience is a column co-ordinated by the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.

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