This week I have the opportunity to present my latest research looking at the impact of humor on the brain. We talk about a lot of different techniques for stress management: a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep to name a few. Personally, I have found massage to be a lifesaver for building in consistent recharge time each week where I intentionally let my brain and body be guided into relaxation mode. A few years ago, thanks to my friends at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, I was introduced to a new type of “mental massage” – one that enhances circulation to parts of the brain that often get left out of our day to day activities, such as perceiving amusement, irony and joy.
Healthy humor is like massage for the brain. It initiates the relaxation response, shifting brain chemistry towards positivity, creativity, and collaboration. Physically, humor decreases levels of toxic cortisol and inflammation in the brain and body, while increasing neural efficiency, energy production, circulation, and overall health. Our current chaotic and constantly connected society is filled with stressful triggers that keep our brain-body systems stuck in a state of chronic stress, speeding up the development of both physical and mental disabilities and illness. Although stress has not been shown to cause the initiation of disease, it clearly speeds up the development of anything potentially harmful to our being. According to the American Institute of Stress, 75-90% of all medical visits are stress related, and unmanaged stress costs US business upwards of $300 billion dollars due to lost productivity and sick days.
By incorporating strategic, intentional humor to our life at both home and work, we send a simple message to the brain that for now we have what we need to survive, and give ourselves permission to enjoy the present moment being able to look at life through a more positive, playful lens. When we share humor and play with others, we build a stronger support network for ourselves, which also results in diminished fear of isolation, decreasing stress to more manageable levels where they can be perceived as challenges rather than threats. This seemingly simple shift from chronic stress to an acute challenge radically changes the physiological response in the brain and body to one that is adaptive rather than destructive and enables us to grow stronger rather than burn out or break down.
A few years ago, my funny friend Karyn Buxman and I started a non-profit organization called Beyond Funny to support research related to humor and brain health. You can find out more about our upcoming Humor Marathon, watch recordings of previous events, and access free resources such as our top 100 list of funny movies, video links and more.
To boost your brainpower right now, why not start with a little laughter therapy before you go? Here are a few of our favorite funny videos from social media the last few weeks:
Richard Simmons on Who’s Line is it Anyway
Most contagious laugh ever: Doug Collins
Robin Williams, History of Golf
Giggle on friends!