Wholeness Healing Today

Stressed out and Laughing

As I was considering what to write about for this newsletter, I ran across the fact that 75-90% of all doctor visits are estimated to be stress related. We Americans feel “stressed-out” and our body, mind, and spirit are responding. Surveys indicate that people are much more stressed out now than they were a decade ago.

Not only that, job stress is the leading source of stress for adults. Children and young people are also showing signs that they are feeling the escalated stress levels. (The American Institute of Stress, 2012)

As I delved into the literature and read more about stress, the impact stress has on our bodies,  how we are working longer hours, absenteeism at work has escalated, and violence has become an increasingly serious problem with all this stress, I found myself tensing up.  (The American Institute of Stress, 2012) A quick scan of my body required me to shut my eyes, take a deep breath and exhale. My jaw was clenched, my forehead crunched and my neck had stiffened in its stressed-out stance.

Conscientiously, I made a decision to let it all go, opting to release the built up stress in my body from merely reading the stats and hearing the words in my head. Taking a deep breath and pondering, I decided that we all know about stress because we all live in the stressful environments. Spending time reading about it or learning more about the high levels and the impact doesn’t seem to be the answer.  What might be the answer is just finding some simple ways to change our days, lighten our loads and enjoy our moments.

One of the simplest ways might be to incorporate more laughter into our day. It would definitely be a fun way to relieve our stress and wouldn’t necessarily require us to meditate for 20 minutes a day or get that exercise in 5 times a week.

The meditation and exercise are good things to do to de-stress but can stress one out worrying about getting it all in. Laughter can be a cardio workout.  One minute of gut-wrenching laughter has been found to produce many of the cardiovascular benefits as 10 minutes on a rowing machine and 15 minutes on a stationary bike. (Solliday-McRoy, 2011) Adding some laughter to the list of “to dos” feels like taking a spoonful of sugar as the medicine.

I venture to say that most of us have heard the stress infomercials. But do we know about how laughter makes a difference in our body, mind and spirit? Laughter stimulates the brain’s regulations of hormones that impact mood, stress, blood pressure and immune responses.  These chemicals are the “feel good” chemicals from endorphins to dopamine to oxytocin. (Solliday-McRoy, 2011)

Dr. Lee Berk studied the effects of mirthful laughter and found that laughter helps regulate the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. Berk also discovered a link between laughter and the projection of anti-bodies and endorphins. Plus, Berk even found that the mere expectation that something funny is coming will bring about positive effects. (Brogaard, 2010) That takes us back to the fact that if we think about something, or imagine it, our brain goes there.  Thinking about something funny that happened to us yesterday can bring about a brain response similar to the laughing moments we had experienced. We can re-do it over and over again!  We might want to make a list of our laughing moments or our gut-wrenching laughs so we can bring them up in our stressed-out times.

Laughing regulates the brain’s dopamine levels, our reward and pleasure hormone. This hormone also regulates mood, motivation and attention and learning.  Reading funny cartoons showed changes in the brain of 16 study participants. Researchers found activated areas in the brain’s limbic system when reading the funny cartoons.  No wonder reading about the stress levels in this country stressed me out.  Perhaps we should be very conscientious about what we choose to read as areas of our brain will respond to the words and feelings that arise from reading it.

Recently our group here at Wholeness Healing Center had some moments of gut wrenching laughter.  What I noted was several things.  First off, laughing together is a bonding experience, hard-wiring the brain with the other person that brings about the release of those “feel –good” hormones in the brain. The laughter in the group relaxed us, made us smile more, and brought about more openness towards each other. Second, I realized I needed to slow down and not miss those moments of laughter.  I have to admire those people who have the natural ability to laugh at the little things that come their way. My husband is like that. The littlest thing will make him laugh. Being a Type A person, I am often on to the next thing before I realize it was funny.  But as I have sunk into those laughing moments, I have found myself moving at a slower pace and laughing more. I am catching the moment more in “real time”, and I I have communed in  the laughing and definitely feel it in my body with the stress release. I also notice my mood, which suddenly has me laughing more each day and smiling on the “off moments.”  Slow down today and find a moment of laughter each hour. I dare say it is much more fun than incorporating the rigorous anti-stress campaign into our lives.


Works Cited

Brogaard, B. (2010, August 24). The effects of laughter on the human brain. Retrieved June 20, 2012, from Livestrong.com.

Solliday-McRoy, D. C. (2011, August 11). Laughter is the best emotional medicine. Retrieved June 20, 2012, from Livestrong.com.

The American Institute of Stress. (2012). Job stress. Retrieved June 19, 2012, from The American Institute of Stress.


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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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