Stress and Humor

by Leslie Kahn, LMT, NCTMB

An elderly couple had been experiencing declining memories, so they decided to take a power memory class where one is taught to remember things by association.

A few days after the class, the old man was outside talking with his neighbor about how much the class helped him.

"What was the name of the Instructor?" asked the neighbor.

"Oh, ummmm, let's see," the old man pondered. "You know that flower, you know, the one that smells really nice but has those prickly thorns, what's that flower's name?"

"A rose?" asked the neighbor.

"Yes, that's it," replied the old man. He then turned toward his house and shouted, "Hey, Rose, what's the name of the Instructor we took the memory class from?"

Did you have a good laugh? I actually laughed out loud all by myself! How did that make you feel? Think about what happens, physiologically, when you laugh. Your diaphragm moves up and down several times, your abdominal muscles get a great workout, vigorously expanding and contracting which increases blood flow and oxygen to your entire body. Laughter strengthens your immune system by increasing anti-body producing cells while reducing stress hormones. It stimulates health enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. (The Laughter-Immune Connection: New Discoveries, Lee S. Berk, DPH, Humor and Health Journal, vol. 5, no. 5, 1996). It provides a physical and emotional release. Humor can act as a distraction from pain.

Let's talk about stress. There are two types of stress; the good kind and the bad kind. We all need a certain amount of stress to motivate us to get up in the morning. Good stress allows us to rise to meet challenges and resolve them successfully. Negative stress can be described as the flight or fright reaction where we are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger and all of our body systems are in overdrive so we can outrun the tiger. This results in diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, auto-immune diseases, gastric problems and premature death. In our fast-paced society, the bad stress comes from too little sleep, too many demands at work and at home, poor diet, little or no exercise, long commutes and financial woes.

Human beings are a gregarious bunch, so laughter is more effective in a group and is truly infectious. We are much more likely to laugh out loud when we are with others than when we are alone. Making light of a potentially difficult situation with humor reduces the possibility for negative stress to occur.
Even pretending to laugh or smile can have a beneficial effect in reducing negative stress.

So, when your boss asks you why you are watching funny TV clips on-line at work or visiting joke websites, tell her that you are practicing your stress reduction techniques. This will save the company money in healthcare costs, improve productivity and make you a happier, more loyal employee. If your boss doesn't believe you, tell her you'll get a prescription for humor from your doctor.

Leslie Kahn is a Licensed Massage Therapist in Chicago and runs a company, KneadALaugh, that provides on-site stress relief services at the workplace. For more information, please go to

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