It’s Not Just Food That is Medicine; Hugs + Laughter are, Too!

It’s Not Just Food That is Medicine; Hugs and Laughter are, too!

When is the last time you laughed?  A true, hearty laugh from deep within your belly?  A laugh so hard you cried?

The past year has been challenging, to say the least; anxiety rates increased an estimated 54% (1).

Prescription medications to treat it anxiety also increased, by a third (2).

But there’s another factor that’s worth considering that is perhaps not being focused upon nearly as much.

How many found solace in taking charge of the things they could take control over?

What they chose to eat, if and how they chose to move and learning tools and techniques to create an internal calm despite the external chaos are just some of the pillars of each of our lives that we can decide to change at any given moment if what we were doing up until now is no longer serving us.

Granted, it can be viewed that changing what we eat or adding an exercise regime into the mix if it’s not been something that had been previously enjoyed is hard, but if we’re presented with an opportunity to do something hard that we have control over versus not making key lifestyle changes and opting only to treat our ‘stuff’ (and we all have ‘stuff’) with medication, are we really treating the root cause, or just the symptoms?

What if we start with small steps and focus on what feels good?

Such as laughter.

It’s not just something that feels great while we’re doing it; it’s actually been proven scientifically to  have health benefits.

A good laugh has great short-term effects (3). 

When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body:

  • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

Even better than laughing alone?

Laughing with a loved one, whether it’s a spouse, a child or a dear friend.

And how many of us got seriously hug-deprived during the pandemic?

Hugs actually help to lower blood pressure and increase oxytocin (yes, the same  hormone that is also released during natural childbirth plays a role here, too – no wonder we call it the love hormone!) 

One study even found that ‘hugging can serve as a stress buffer’ and boost immune systems!

“Hugs help us feel connected and supported and can calm feeling of anxiety… it’s a potent reminder that we have people in our lives who love and care about us”, said Professor Michael Murphy at Texas Tech in a recent NY Times Article. (4).

Take away message:

Yes – clean up what you’re eating, move more, mediate… and don’t forget to throw some hugs, love and laugher into the mix!!