By Aaron O’Banion & Justin Bashore
Laughter and its health benefits
Laughter is a great antidote to social anxiety. It provides us with physical, psychological, and social benefits, and distracts us from negative thinking habits. By adding laughter to our daily lives, our therapy becomes more efficient and effective.
If we’re feeling stressed, worn out, or depressed, one of the most effective strategies we can use is laughter. There are hundreds of research studies backing up the positive health effects a good belly laugh can provide.
Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan, professors of pathology and laboratory medicine at Loma Linda University, conducted studies which showed that laughter lowers blood pressure and releases beta-endorphins, a morphine-like compound in the brain that creates a sense of euphoria. These endorphins counteract the levels of adrenaline and cortisol that socially anxious people experience on a daily basis. This helps induce a state of calmness, and the more relaxed we are, the more we can stay in a rational/positive frame of mind.
Dr. Tan also states that laughter increases our immunity to infections by increasing the number of disease-fighting cells and proteins in the blood. It provides a “safety valve” that stops the flow of stress hormones. Multiple studies have shown that laughter is similar to aerobic exercise, burning calories and increasing the body’s ability to utilize oxygen.
Laughter provides us with social benefits by allowing us to feel more connected to one another. That’s why many people who give a speech open with a joke. If everyone is laughing together, a collective bond is created which puts us more at ease and makes us more likely to talk with others around us.
Laughter allows us to express our true feelings. If we can consistently use laughter in our lives, it will have a positive effect on our relationships and our well-being. If we learn to take life less seriously, it will calm us down and allow others to feel more comfortable around us.
How can we make sure we get the benefits of laughter?
The “typical” social anxiety response is to tighten up, become inflexible, and stick to a “proper script” of how to act in social situations. If we learn to bring laughter into our everyday lives, we will see benefits to our physical health, our mental health, and our social lives. We should laugh at ourselves, find humor in bad situations, and use reminders to lighten our moods.
We should emulate the way children laugh (which is far more often than adults) and surround ourselves with positive, funny people. If we do these things, we will decrease our social anxiety and view the world in a more positive light. This will allow us to uncover the “real” us beneath our anxiety-ridden exterior.
Laughter Should Be Included in a Social Anxiety Therapy Group
At the Social Anxiety Institute, we recognize the benefits of laughter (i.e., sense of humor and comedy) to overcoming social anxiety. The inclusion of laughter in the therapy group is very helpful, and the knowledge that there are laughter clubs throughout the world can serve as adjunct therapy for social anxiety. In context of the social anxiety group, standing up and laughing about anything -- nothing in particular -- is a great exercise to work on self-consciousness and increase the number of endorphins in the body. With practice, you can feel differently and find it easier to laugh in public. Dr. Richards uses laughter in the CBT therapy groups for social anxiety disorder, and said "I have the group stand up and begin to laugh. We don't laugh at anything specifically; we just laugh. Laughter seems forced and difficult at first, but the more you become accustomed to laughing for longer lengths, the more you feel natural and the easier it is to reduce feelings of self-consciousness. Laughter is something we never have enough time to do regularly in our therapy groups, so I do recommend people just begin laughing, when they are alone, as a therapy practice concept. If it is adhered to, people can feel the benefits of laughing within a few weeks."
For information on laughter clubs in your geographical area, type "laughter clubs" in your search engine, and you may be surprised at the results. Laughter -- which may have to be forced and faked to start with -- can turn into an important part of how to get over social anxiety.