Laugh it up: It's good for your health

It may sound cliché, but laughter really is great medicine. Learn about the healing power laughter offers patients with a chronic illness.

“Laughter is the most inexpensive and effective wonder drug. Laughter is a universal medicine.” – Bertrand Russell, British philosopher

It may sound cliché, but laughter really is great medicine. For proof, look no further than your own body. You know that happy feeling you get from a good belly laugh? There are physiological reasons for it. Research has shown that laughter releases hormones that can calm your nerves, reduce your stress, ease your pain and help you forget, even momentarily, about your worries.

The results can be downright therapeutic. Studies have found that laughter can improve physical wellness by boosting the immune and circulatory systems, enhancing oxygen intake, easing digestion, relieving pain, and improving blood pressure.

Doctors have tapped laughter’s therapeutic value since the 13th century, when surgeons began using it to distract patients from their pain. By the 20th century, researchers began to explore the science of laughter’s healing benefits. For cancer patients, laughter can be especially important. At first blush, it may seem counter-intuitive. You may think it’s inappropriate to find humor in the world around you if you or a loved one is battling cancer.

“When patients go through a crisis, they tend to go into survival mode. Humor is one of the first things to go,” says Michael Uhl, MA, MDiv, LMFT, Behavioral Health Therapist at our Atlanta hospital. “You can’t live your life like that all the time. You have to find some normalcy again. And laughter is a normal part of life.”

“We tell patients that they may feel like they can’t laugh at their situation, but they can laugh in spite of it,” Uhl says. He offers these tips to exercise your funny bone:

Find humor that suits your personality. Everybody’s sense of humor is different. Check out the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time and watch a movie that matches yours.

Give yourself permission to laugh. Laughter promotes a positive outlook on life, which will help you through your cancer journey.

Find the funny around you. Enjoy the humorous moments in your conversations and interactions with others.

Don’t be afraid to be silly. Stay true to your inner you. Don’t let cancer stop you from clowning around and having fun with your friends and loved ones.

Learn about other behavioral health services used to reduce stress in cancer patients.