Is Laughter the Best Medicine for the Brain?
Laughter is often touted as the best medicine for when we feel glum. Except, it isn’t always that easy. Many of us feel overwhelmed by daily stress. Being bombarded by constant global news coverage and adding an overload of tasks and chores in our personal and work lives only adds to our burdens. Turning to something light or funny can feel frivolous or something we’ll do when we have time to relax.
This resistance to finding time for laughter can often lead to negative self-talk. We want to focus, to buckle down, and get things done. But our brain needs time to relax and regenerate if we want it to continue functioning at its best. And that’s where laughter can help.
Laughter is most commonly associated with lifting our mood and raising our spirits. And the brain benefits don’t stop there.
When we laugh we trigger significant neurochemical activation in our brain. The levels of cortisol and epinephrine are immediately reduced while serotonin and endorphins are released. This powerful combo raises our mood while lowering our stress. In fact, this neurochemical response has been compared to being as powerful and effective as antidepressants.
Even more fascinating, listening to jokes takes our brain out of the information processing mode and activates our emotional responses. This change in brain activity helps break up any negative or hyper-focused processes, changing not just our state of mind but often our overall perspective as well.
Physically, laughter does some amazing thing to our body as well. It increases our blood flow and changes our breathing, which then elevates our heart rate. This gives us a boost of more endorphins, along with bursts of serotonin and dopamine. Our muscle tension decreases which further lowers stress chemicals in our brain. When we reduce stress, both chemically and physically, our cognitive function increases. This means we can focus longer and maintain higher levels of productivity, along with showing improved memory function, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills.
Laughter can also increase our social bonds. When we laugh with groups of people, the neurochemicals released in our brain doesn’t only elevate our mood but connects us to the people we’re around. Studies have shown that social laughter plays a key role in not just forming social bonds, but maintaining and reinforcing them as well. It can diffuse group tension while promoting feelings of group safety and togetherness. And because laughter is often contagious, it is more effective in large group bonding than any other form of communication.
Laughter may not always feel natural, especially in the face of stress or difficult times. And it probably isn’t something many of us put on our daily to-do list. However, studies have shown that not only is laughter good for the brain, but it can help us bond with friends, family, and co-workers in efficient and effective ways. This makes laughter a powerful tool to fight stress, improve our health, and maintain social relationships. Discovering ways to increase the amount of laughter in our lives is a brain-healthy activity worthy of adding to any to-do list.