I know you are feeling overwhelmed right now. You are searching for direction, answers, hope. I am here to help. Each month, I will send you some information and advice to try to make your journey a little more manageable…
When You're Ready to Laugh Again
Do we laugh because we are happy, or are we happier because we laugh?
Cancer hardly seems like a laughing matter. You may think it is inappropriate or insensitive to joke at a time like this. Yet, at some point in your cancer journey, you may feel ready to laugh again. And when you do, you’ll discover that laughter is a natural diversion. Laughter can lift your spirits and help you forget about cancer for a while.
What is Laughter Therapy?
Laughter therapy, also called humor therapy, is the use of humor to promote overall health and wellness. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort, and improve quality of life.
More specifically, laughter therapy may help to:
- Improve overall attitude
- Reduce stress/tension
- Promote relaxation
- Improve sleep
- Strengthen social bonds and relationships
- Produce a general sense of well-being
History of Humor in Medicine
Throughout history, people have been using humor in medicine. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Later, in the 20th century, came the scientific study of the effect of humor on physical wellness.
Many credit this movement to Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. In his 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins describes how watching comedic movies helped him recover.
Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health.
Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Many hospitals around the country now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment.
The Physical Benefits of Laughter
For people with cancer, humor may seem out of place when facing such serious issues. Yet, laughter can help in ways you may not realize. Laughter allows you to release unpleasant emotions. It can also have physical benefits. According to some studies, laughter therapy may help to:
- Boost the immune and circulatory systems
- Enhance oxygen intake
- Stimulate the heart and lungs
- Relax muscles throughout the body
- Trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
- Ease digestion
- Reduce pain
- Balance blood pressure
- Improve mental functions
How Does Laughter Therapy Work?
During stressful times, it can be challenging to find humor in anything. Yet, we were born with the gift of laughter. When we laugh, the body releases stress-reducing hormones that make us feel good. Some researchers believe that even one minute of forced laughter is as mood-enhancing as spontaneous laughter.
An example of a group laughter exercise involves patients standing in a circle, with the leader in the middle. Participants put their fingertips on their cheekbones, chest or lower abdomen and make “ha ha” or “hee hee” sounds until they felt vibrations through their bodies. Once people start laughing, others often join in because laughter is contagious.
Tips for Finding Humor During Cancer Care
- Give yourself permission to laugh. You may be going through a difficult time right now, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up laughing. Laughing provides a well-needed distraction from your current situation. When you let yourself laugh just a little, it can make you feel a lot better.
- Laugh regularly. Make a point to laugh every day. Practice laughing for five minutes a day. You may have to fake it at first before it becomes more natural. Write down some funny quotes or stories and hang them up around your home to remind yourself to laugh. Create a joke book and keep it at your bedside.
- Look for humor around you. It can be refreshing to find humor in everyday situations. Make an effort to incorporate humor into your daily life. Look for humor in people’s behavior. Recognize the ridiculousness of certain situations, and laugh out loud about it.
- Seek out humor-related entertainment. Seek out things that make you laugh. Watch a humorous TV show or movie, read a funny book, listen to a silly song, play a funny game, go to a comedy club, look at silly pictures, or visit a funny website.
- Laugh with others. Try to surround yourself with fun-loving people who have a good sense of humor and who can be playful. If you sense that others feel awkward joking around you, let them know when you are ready to laugh again. Once you open the door to laughter, you’ll find that it brings people together.
- Don't be afraid to be silly. Do at least one silly thing a day. Try new activities that bring out your playfulness. Laugh at yourself. Over-exaggerate simple mistakes. Be spontaneous, as the element of surprise can be humorous.
- Smile often. Smiling can make you feel more positive. When we smile, we are also closer to laughing. Remember, though, that it is okay to have days when you feel more like crying. Crying can be healing too. Accept these days for what they are and embrace the days when laughing comes easier.
- Participate in fun activities. Physical activity can have positive effects on your mood and can also be a source of laughter. If you are physically able, try fun activities, such as dancing, skating, racquetball, or hula hooping. Play your favorite music and dance alone in your house.
- Have a humor-themed party. Theme or costume parties can be fun and induce plenty of laughs. Get together with friends and family and play fun games together (e.g., Pictionary, Cranium, Apples to Apples). Share funny stories and past experiences, including embarrassing moments.
- Join a laughter group. Some humor therapy sessions focus specifically on helping cancer patients and their families. These groups, led by a laughter therapist, take you through a number of laugh-related exercises to help you use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER REGARDING LAUGHTER THERAPY DURING CANCER CARE.
About Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) is a network of cancer hospitals unlike any other.
CTCA doctors specialize in treating many forms of cancer, including complex and advanced cases. They work as a team, alongside cancer experts across multiple disciplines, to keep you strong in body, mind and spirit.
When you meet with your CTCA care team, they listen to you and provide clear, well-defined choices. Together, you and your care team develop a comprehensive treatment plan based on your unique diagnosis and needs.
Using the latest technologies and advanced tools to fight cancer, your care team provides a powerful combination of treatments. And, while your oncologists help you fight cancer, the rest of your care team provides supportive therapies to help you tolerate treatment, manage side effects, and enjoy a good quality of life.
CTCA is different. You see it in the eyes of fellow patients and in the determination of your doctors. Here, we are on this journey together.
The Mind-Body Medicine Department at CTCA offers Laughter Therapy to help you cope during your cancer treatment. Visit the full website to learn more.