Saturday, June 4, 2011
What's so funny about RA?
At first glance, the idea of anything being even remotely funny about a chronic disease seems, well....funny in itself. Truth be told, humor is a tremendous tool in managing RA. I discovered over time, that laughter and good humor go a long way in promoting both a positive attitude and even healing.
Research has shown that the health benefits of laughter are far-ranging. While more studies need to be done, studies so far have shown that laughter can help relieve pain, bring greater happiness, and even increase immunity.
Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine(adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and neurotransmitters which reduces stress, a big flare inducer with RA.
Have you ever felt like you "have to laugh or I'll cry"? Have you experienced the cleansed feeling after a good laugh? Laughter provides a physical and emotional release. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. It even provides a good workout for the heart. Laughter brings the focus away from anger, guilt, stress and negative emotions in a more beneficial way than other mere distractions.
Studies show that our response to stressful events can be altered by whether we view something as a 'threat' or a 'challenge'. Humor can give us a more lighthearted perspective and help us view events as 'challenges', thereby making them less threatening and more positive.
There are actually social benefits to laughter as well. Laughter connects us with others. Just as with smiling and kindness, most people find that laughter is contagious, so if you bring more laughter into your life, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more, and realize these benefits as well. By elevating the mood of those around you, you can reduce their stress levels, and perhaps improve the quality of social interaction you experience with them, reducing your stress level even more!
So how can we integrate laughter into our daily lives?
T.V. and Movies: There's no shortage of laughter opportunities from the entertainment world, both at the theater and in the aisles of the video stores, as well as at home with T.V. comedies. While wasting your time watching something marginally funny may actually frustrate you, watching truly hilarious movies and shows is an easy way to get laughter into your life whenever you need it.
Laugh With Friends: Going to a movie or comedy club with friends is a great way to get more laughter in your life. The contagious effects of laughter may mean you'll laugh more than you otherwise would have during the show, plus you'll have jokes to reference at later times. Having friends over for a party or game night is also a great setup for laughter and other good feelings.
Find Humor In Your Life: Instead of complaining about life's frustrations, including the discomfort and challenges of RA, try to laugh about them. If something is so frustrating or depressing it's ridiculous, realize that you could 'look back on it and laugh.' Think of how it will sound as a story you could tell to your friends, and then see if you can laugh about it now. One example for me was trying to give my dog a bath when my hands were especially painful....picture me trying to not only wash and rinse her but towel and blow dry a squirming dog all while having little to no hand dexterity....it was hilarious! With this positive attitude, you may also find yourself being more lighthearted and silly, giving yourself and those around you more to laugh about. Approach life in a more mirthful way and you'll find you're less stressed about negative events, and you'll achieve the health benefits of laughter.
Fake It Until You Make It': Just as studies show the positive effects of smiling occur whether the smile is fake or real, faked laughter also provides the benefits mentioned above. The body can't distinguish between 'fake' laughter that you just start doing on purpose, and 'real' laughter that comes from true humor--the physical benefits are exactly the same, and the former usually leads to the latter anyway. So smile more, and fake laughter; you'll still achieve positive effects, and the fake merriment may lead to real smiles and laughter.
Having a positive attitude through the use of humor is just another strategy in the successful management of RA.
Enjoy a laugh today and see how it works for you. What do you have to loose????