Why Laughter Can Help Reduce Chronic Pain

If you have ever seen the Robin Williams movie called “Patch Adams” you will be familiar with this concept but you might not know the science. The fact is, laughter produces chemicals that help to heal the body. Laughter produces endorphins that are natural pain relievers and reduces hypertension in the body. Laughter will help to lower the body’s production of an acidic hormone called cortisol which is released in stressful times, thereby reduces pain as well. Let’s look at some of the studies that have been done on laughter to help you understand just why it’s so crucial for your healing process.

Laughter Releases a Natural Pain Killer

A research project conducted by Oxford University found that laughter reduced pain for their test subjects. They had participants watch funny videos and found that they actually needed less pain killers. It turns out that laughter releases chemicals that stimulate the same exact receptors as painkillers and produces euphoria. The best part is, laughter doesn’t have harmful side effects and it doesn’t cost you anything.

Another study they did found that people that were exposed to comedy before a painful stimulus was induced had a higher pain tolerance than others. That means that being exposed to funny jokes or people could help you later.

Laughter Calms the Nervous System

Another effect that laughter has is that it calms the parasympathetic nervous system. It also allows the sympathetic arousal system to calm, allowing your heart to be less strained. The deep breathing involved in laughing is one of the main factors in calming the nervous system. This may sound complicated but stick with us. Your heart rate is greatly influenced by your breathing. Consequently, your inflammation is related to your heart rate. A fast heart rate is associated with more inflammation. There is something referred to as a cardiac vagal tone. A low tone is linked to inflammation and it is directly correlated to shallow diaphragmatic breathing.

Let’s take a breather from the complex scientific jargon for a second and look at the big picture. Our bodies have complex systems that are always interacting. Even if we don’t understand all the terminology, we can understand that emotions and physical pain are very closely tied. When we have emotional stress, it stores as tension in the body and over stimulates the nervous system.

A study presented at the European Pain Federation showed that laughter can help to reduce chronic pain too. They found people could keep their hands in ice water longer if they were laughing. They also found that laughter reduced pain up to twenty minutes afterwards. Not only does the laughing release endorphins, it also reduces tension in the muscles. At this particular meeting there were 4,000 specialists that focus just on pain management. The topic of laughter was presented among these scientists as a viable pain reduction technique.

Added Health Benefits of Laughter

As we said, there are many complex systems in the body that are constantly interacting and pain is often coming from more than one system being out of balance. The Mayo Clinic has reported many health benefits from laughter that improve our overall health. Short term benefits include stimulation of your organs because of the increased amount of oxygen that’s brought in. The oxygen is carried by your blood to the organs and helps to actually purify your blood as well. Long-term, laughter can actually help to reduce illnesses by strengthening your immune system. It releases neuropeptides which can help fight viruses and bacteria. Genuine laughter is a great way to boost your mood and lower your stress.

Robin Dunbar, a professor at Oxford University has found that laughter does increase our tolerance to pain. Just like sex, good food and exercise, laughter can distract us from the pain. It’s something primal within us that allows us to feel relieved. Just as dancing and singing can alleviate stress, laughing has been a way to make people feel better for a very long time. For a long time, there was no evidence to back up this claim but now, there is more than enough scientific evidence to prove that it can actually reduce chronic pain.

Get Your Daily Dose of Laughter

If you have chronic pain, it can be hard to laugh right? Well luckily there are professionals just waiting to help you out and get that inflammation down. You can go to comedy shows, watch funny movies or hang out with funny people. There is even lots of free content online if you just search funny videos or stand up comedy. Click here to visit the comedy central website. Or check out these funny jokes you can learn and tell to your friends by clicking here.

There is a growing amount of laughter yoga classes that people have great things to say about. It’s really a class about laughing. They are becoming more and more popular because people realize how much better they feel from it. While the laughter may be contrived at first, eventually people will really be laughing from their heart which will activate that endorphin release and ease tension.

What if I’m Just Not Funny?

Don’t worry. If you feel like you aren’t the class clown, it’s something that can be learned over time. If you make it a focus to focus on humor, it will become a habit. You can carry a joke book around with you, post funny pictures or jokes by your desk or on your refrigerator. You can also keep an arsenal of funny movies on hand. If you surround yourself with humor, it will start to infuse into your brain. The brain can always create new neural pathways that over time will allow you to lighten up. So even if you come from a very serious family or have dealt with a lot of trauma, you have the ability to focus on the brighter and funnier side of life.

Avoid Negative People and Media

On the other side of all of this is something very important that we want to shed light on. If laughter is good for us, what does negative energy do for our pain? It’s important to fuel your mind and body with positive experiences and really stay away from people who are negative. Stress management is a booming business right now (look at how many yoga studios are opening). Try not to watch graphic and violent videos that will stimulate your nervous system. Try to hang out with positive people who aren’t angry or nervous. These lifestyle choices can greatly contribute to our overall wellbeing.

Tips to Keep Smiling and Laughing

Make your home a happy place. You can put up things that remind you to laugh like pictures of comedians or funny quotes. You can paint the walls bright colors or add things in your home that have a sense of humor. When you go to a home that is decorated with a sense of humor, you can feel the good energy there, it just tends to linger because people are automatically put in a good mood when they walk in. Furthermore, if you make it a point to just choose to smile and think about things that make you happy, people will find themselves smiling back at you. The world is a mirror of our own thoughts and if we are thinking about jokes, chances are, people will reflect a fun filled world right back at us.

Shannon Yrizarry

Shannon Yrizarry is a health and wellness professional who was healed from chronic back pain in 2003 after studying the mind-body connection. She went on to study the physical and mental benefits of yoga and now teaches classes and workshops in Southern California. She has also worked as an organic health consultant and writes about how to eat a clean whole foods diet incorporating gluten-free, raw, and dairy free options.