Cancer Treatment Centers of America

The power of laughter for cancer patients

Meagan Brown, MA, LCSW,
laughter therapy

Babies can start laughing when they’re only three months old. By the time they’re children, they can do it up to a hundred times a day. But for us adults, laughter can get lost in the whirlwind of life’s responsibilities and challenges. We often don’t feel like laughing when pain and stress demand your attention. But it’s exactly then that laughter can pull us through and change our outlook on life.

If you have cancer, life can seem particularly overwhelming. You’re juggling appointments and your medication schedule, adjusting to changing treatment plans, and dealing with the side effects of treatments you undergo. While your life has been turned upside down, you’re probably trying to maintain some semblance of a “normal life.” So, where’s the laughter in cancer?

Sometimes, it’s only by realizing how absurd the whole situation really is that you can find the perspective to shake your head, take a breath, sort of smile and say, “Really?! This is UNBELIEVABLE!” In those moments, choosing to laugh is like a booster shot to your resilience, with no unpleasant side effects and hopefully some unexpectedly pleasant ones.

Although laughter may seem like an uncontrolled reaction to something funny, scientists have determined that our bodies can’t really tell the difference between authentic laughter and a process we mind-body therapists like to call, “Fake it ’til you make it!” The simple act of laughing can be strong enough to take over your body, and can lead to chemical changes that can actually shift your perspective, even if you’re not reacting to something funning but laughing just to laugh.

By moving the muscles in your face to smile, and using your breath and vocal cords to create the sounds of laughter, your brain and body recognize this behavior and work to generate the feelings that are associated with laughter. Research shows that people feel better, lighter, more relaxed and generally clearer-headed after just 15 minutes of therapeutic laughter. Laughing in an intentional way can program your body for those benefits.

Once you experience how laughter can bring positive changes to your life, you can choose to laugh anytime you feel stressed or even scared. Laughter can alter your perspective on how you define your own healing and how you move through your cancer journey. Laughing with other people can create a safe space for loved ones to come together in an honest and loving way. After all, a family that plays together stays together.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the details and demands of what you’re going through, remember that laughter never really leaves you. Simply take a breath, shake your head, find your smile and laugh.

Learn more about laughter therapy at our hospitals.