The Power of Humor

(April 19, 2022)

“Laughter is the best medicine”

 What does this phrase mean? Laughter in and of itself can’t cure colds, broken limbs, or kidney disease. So why do we say that laughter is “medicine”?

Often, though not always, what we mean is that humor makes us feel better. Humor is an important tool in relationships of all kinds, and humor comes up often during therapy. For example, “Opposite Action” is a coping skill commonly taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Opposite Action is doing the opposite of what you feel to counteract the feeling or urge. In the case of humor, it could mean making a joke or attempting to laugh when you are feeling sad. Laughter can also bring people together, in the case of a shared sense of humor, or an inside joke, or can help us process an embarrassing event or moment. 

What are some other ways that laughter can benefit mental health?

1)  Laughter decreases your stress response and lowers blood pressure- long term, laughter can increase pain tolerance and improve your immune system! Do you ever feel better after laughing? That’s because your body is physically benefitting!

2) Increase confidence- Sharing a laugh with someone, or making someone laugh, can make you feel great about yourself and your ability to connect with people!

3) More endorphins- Laughter releases endorphins, the chemicals that are released in the brain when something good happens. Laughter alters serotonin and dopamine activity, which can help reduce depressive symptoms along with other therapeutic modalities. 

We often feel so much better after a good belly laugh. However, humor is also sometimes used as a defense against difficult emotions. Sometimes, we are tempted to make jokes when we feel afraid, uncomfortable, or uneasy. In therapy, humor can be a distraction from talking about difficult topics. Humor can be damaging to our relationships, and is not always appropriate for every context, despite the many benefits. 

Here are some examples of when humor should not be used:

  1. When the joke unkind- Making a joke at someone else’s expense is not worth the laugh. Making fun can damage self-esteem and relationships.
  2. When the joke covers up a problem- Sometimes we make jokes to deflect when something is wrong. If we are feeling depressed, making a joke can sometimes help, but not if it deflects from eventually getting to the real issue.
  3. When you or someone else is in danger- It is never ok to make jokes about suicide, homicide, abuse, or neglect, but especially if those things are happening. If you are concerned about your safety or someone else’s, get help, don’t make a joke.

Next time you’re feeling down, reach out to a friend who makes you laugh, watch a comedy special, or think about something funny that’s happened to you in the past. You might be surprised how much better you feel!

It is important to remember that laughter is not a cure-all and should not be used in place of medical intervention or talk therapy. There are many other ways to increase endorphins and improve your physical health, such as getting the nutrients you need, getting enough sleep, and connecting with friends and family.

If you feel you may need help learning about coping skills, schedule an appointment with us by calling (217) 203-2008 or by sending us an email.