What is humor therapy?

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Humor therapy: Overview

Humor therapy (sometimes called therapeutic humor) uses the power of smiles and laughter to aid healing. Humor therapy helps you find ways to make yourself (or others) smile and laugh more. When you think of humor therapy, picture clowns in the children's ward of a hospital cheering up sick children. Some hospitals now have humor carts that provide funny materials for people of any age. Many nurses have learned the value of providing a good laugh to those they care for.

Scientists have been researching the relation between the mind and the body, especially in connection with the body's ability to heal (a field called psychoneuroimmunology). Laughter appears to change brain chemistry and may boost the immune system.

Humor may allow a person to feel in control of a situation and make it seem more manageable. It allows people to release fears, anger, and stress, all of which can harm the body over time. Humor improves the quality of life.

How safe is humor therapy?

Humor therapy is completely safe. Your doctor is likely to approve of any efforts you make to use humor therapy, even if he or she is not aware of specific medical benefits that may result. Because it is inexpensive, risk-free, and readily available, there is little reason not to try practicing humor therapy.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

What is healing through laughter?

You're lying in bed with some kind of health problem, taking medicine and maybe getting some kind of treatment or therapy—and feeling pretty down. Or maybe you're taking care of someone who's ill, and it's wearing you out. Sometimes life can feel pretty overwhelming. This might seem like a crazy idea, but now's the time for you to laugh.

Think for a minute: Is there anything close by that might cheer you up? A TV show? A book? Your child dancing?

Whatever you're doing right now, stop and find something that makes you laugh. It may feel like a solution that won't last long, but laughter can help you forget about your troubles and help your body heal. That's right. Laughter can help your body heal.

Your brain talks to your body

You probably already know that your brain is in charge of things like what you think about and your ability to walk, talk, breathe, and move. But did you know that your brain also produces chemicals that affect everything from how fast your heart beats to how well you fight off disease?

Thanks to something called the mind-body connection, the simple act of laughing can tell your brain to produce chemicals that might:

  • Help your heart work better and pump more evenly.
  • Boost your body's immune system to help you fight off infection.
  • Give you more energy, and lower your stress.
  • Help you make sense of your emotional experiences, improve your mood, and manage your feelings of pain and stress.

Scientific research backs this up: The more you laugh, the better you'll feel and the healthier you'll be. Give it a try.

Why is humor therapy done?

People commonly use humor therapy in the treatment of long-term (chronic) diseases, especially those that are made worse by stress (such as heart disease and asthma). Anyone can use humor therapy, either preventively or as part of treatment for any disease.

Chronic diseases have a negative effect on mood and attitude, which can make the disease worse. Humor therapy helps reduce the negative effects of feeling unhealthy, out of control, afraid, or helpless, which are common problems for those with cancer or chronic diseases.

Humor therapy is also valuable as a preventive measure for the caregivers of people with chronic diseases. Caregivers are at high risk of becoming sick themselves, and humor therapy can help release the stress that comes from being a caregiver. Caregivers and those they care for can practice humor therapy together, and they both are likely to have better health as a result.

Learning ways to laugh more

Laughter is one of those things, like getting exercise or watching what you eat, that you can do yourself. There are many ways to bring more laughter into your life.

  • Ask others to help.

    Ask your spouse, partner, or friends to help by telling you good jokes or bringing you funny movies.

  • Laugh with a child.

    Spend time with the world's leading experts on laughter: children.

  • Be with people who make you laugh.

    Surround yourself with people and things that make you laugh-whoever or whatever they may be.

  • Surround yourself with humor.

    For instance, an online search for "stupid pet tricks" or "funniest home movies" will give you—as well as the people you care for or the people who care for you—plenty to laugh at. Ask at your local library or bookstore for funny books, audio programs, or movies. Or subscribe to a free comedy podcast.

It's easy to think that the only things that can help your health are things that others do for you or to you—the medicines you take, the doctors you visit, the surgeries or operations you have. And these are all important. But laughter is effective treatment you can do for yourself. And you don't need a medical license to do it.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.