Nourished Living by Dietician Kelly Hamlin MA, RD, CDN

Feeling stressed out? Have a couple laughs and call me in the morning

There are many types of humor, but have you ever thought about where a sense of humor comes from? Let’s face it, we all know people who are just not funny. The harder they try, the worse it gets.

So do we include humor in the Nature vs. Nurture discussion? It’s a good question—and one I could not find a scientific answer for.

I’m sure by now you’re all wondering why the heck I’m writing about humor.

And what does it have to do with health and wellness? So glad you asked!

How many of you have seen  the Robin Williams’ movie Patch  Adams? (If you haven’t, you should. It’s a great movie!)

It is based on the real-life story of Dr. Hunter Doherty, aka Patch Adams, a doctor/clown/social activist who wants to change the health care system. His belief is that laughter is the best medicine—and he is certainly on to something.

According to an interview published in the September/October 1996 issue of Humor and Health Journal, Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University have studied the effects of laughter on the immune system.

Their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease- destroying antibodies.

Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. How awesome is all that?! As stated above, humor and/or laughter can alleviate emotional stress which may help alleviate/ prevent stress-related illness.

Remember that the sustained release of stress, or “fight or flight,” hormones can contribute significantly to high blood pressure, nervous system disorders, and other health complications.

Besides decreasing stress, humor and/or laughter can simply make us feel better and put us in good spirits.

Think to a time when you were upset or stressed about something and you found humor and were able to laugh. Didn’t you feel better? I know I have!

While laughter is well-accepted by the public as common-sense medicine, the exact physiological mechanisms through which humor/laughter improve health are unknown.

At this point, we can see the big picture of laughter as good medicine, and understand aspects of the physiology of humor and laughter, but don’t yet fully understand how all the pieces of the picture fit together. Besides, think how stressful all of that research would be! No fun at all!

Humor is also a great communication tool to relieve tension between people and facilitate relationship-building.

As a coping mechanism, humor helps people diffuse difficult emotions such as anger, fear, grief, and sadness.

In hospital settings where people often have the aforementioned emotions, humor can help both patients and their families by giving everyone permission to laugh and relax.

So next time you’re feeling all stressed out, try to find some humor— no matter how small—in the situation. You may think it’s not possible but trust me, it is!

Those of you who are a tad uptight and take everything way too seriously (you know who you are), you’re doing your body and mind a disservice. Relax and laugh!

I came across a quote by William Arthur Ward that I thought was kind of cool: A well developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.

On a personal note, due to the subject matter, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a person who has certainly contributed to my sense of humor… my Dad, Jack O’Hern.

Of course, after raising five kids one would have to have a great sense of humor! I want to wish him a very happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day birthday!

In his honor, I will share one of his favorite sayings with you: “Did you know that if it weren’t for venetian blinds it would be curtains for all of us?”

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