Can laughter help you heal from cancer? Humor has a number of health benefits that are a particular advantage for cancer survivors, says Dennis Buttimer, a certified life and health coach at Cancer Wellness.
"When you laugh, you are not denying that you have cancer or are facing a difficult circumstance, but you are increasing your sense of well-being, which leaves you better able to cope with cancer and other challenges," he says.
The health benefits of laughter
Not only does laughing make you feel good in the short-term, it positively affects the body in several ways, Buttimer says. Laughter can:
Decrease pain. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones and natural painkillers.
Have a natural antidepressant effect. Laughter also increases serotonin production in the body. Serotonin is one of the body's most powerful antidepressants. It is normal for your serotonin levels to drop when you are going through a tough time, which can leave you feeling sluggish and sad.
Increase circulation and muscle relaxation. Laughter increases the amount of oxygen you breathe in, which can boost circulation and relieve muscle tension. Cancer treatments can slow circulation to certain parts of your body, so increasing circulation to those areas is considered "anticancer."
Strengthen your immune system. Anything you can do to support your immune system during cancer treatment and recovery is important. Positive thoughts and feelings have been shown to cause the body to release neuropeptides that combat stress and serious diseases.
Reduce joint pain. Laughter can decrease tension in your joints from cancer or cancer treatment. When you laugh, you increase the lymphatic fluids that lubricate your joints.
Why is humor so important during cancer treatment?
"Humor helps shift your perspective," says Buttimer. "During cancer treatment, it can be easy to get stuck in a state of fear or negativity. You can break through that state by allowing yourself to have a lighter view of life instead of a negative view. Humor can help calm you, which helps you make better decisions and enjoy your life."
Intentional laughter through laughter exercises
Laughter is so good for you, Cancer Wellness offers classes on humor, which incorporate laughter exercises. While laughter may feel forced at first, laughter exercises have a profound effect on participants.
Here are a few examples of laughter exercises:
Close your eyes and imagine a time you laughed really hard. Think about the person or situation that made you laugh. Allow yourself to feel what you felt in that moment.
Laugh as you did when you were 5 years old.
Laugh how you think you will laugh 50 years from now.
"At first, people are shy, but within a few seconds, they start laughing at themselves," he says. "The exercises we do in our class give people permission to not be so 'adult' and so serious. They allow participants to be playful and spontaneous."
How to have more humor in your life
If your life could use a little more levity, try these tips:
Go to a show at a comedy club.
Listen to a comedy CD or podcast.
Read a joke book, comic strips or satirical story.
Spend time with funny people. Think about someone in your life who gives you a warm feeling inside because he or she makes you laugh.
Watch a humorous television or movie.
"Sometimes we can be so serious that we get out of balance," says Buttimer. "Give yourself permission to integrate laughter and humor into your life."
See more ways to boost your well-being.