World Mental Health Day is celebrated on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of promoting greater public awareness and understanding of mental health and mental illness around the world and mobilising efforts in support of it.
Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging. It includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being and affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. Mental health also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, make choices and realise our full potential.
In modern societies, aggressive competition and socioeconomic interaction can stress the quality of life, causing negative influences on a person’s mental health. Laughter among many other things can help improve our mental health. It’s a positive sensation, and it seems to be a useful and healthy way to overcome stress. In fact, the benefits of laughter extend to better mental health and are an indicator of better physical health as well.
Research shows that laughter has many long- and short-term benefits for our mental, physical and social well-being. It can improve blood flow, lower blood sugar levels and strengthen your immune system. Additionally, laughter triggers a relaxation response in the brain, which can temporarily relieve pain and help you sleep better. Moreover, laughing can even turn a negative experience into a positive one and can brighten your mood for the rest of the day. People are drawn to you when you laugh because it spreads positivity and good feelings.
So, if you want to bring more happiness into your life, start by cultivating more humour and laughter and smile more. Like laughter, smiling is contagious, and it has a positive effect on you and on the people around you. Spend time with people who make you laugh, tell jokes and laugh at other people’s jokes. Here are some of the positive effects of laughing on our overall mental health:
Releasing endorphins: These natural chemicals promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress, which in turn tells us to feel happy.
Decreasing anger: When we’re in a difficult situation or in a disagreement with another person, seeing the humour in the situation can help. Laughter can change moods in an instant. It can defuse anger, conflict and self-blame.
Easing distressing emotions: Laughter counteracts feelings of anxiety and sadness. Moreover, it helps us release other intense emotions, such as grief.
Changing our perspective: Laughter helps us access another point of view. We begin to see something in a new, less scary way when we can laugh about it. Laughing can even turn a negative experience into a positive one and can brighten your mood for the rest of the day.
Improving blood flow: When you laugh, your lungs fill with air, facial muscles stretch, and abdominal muscles tighten, causing your pulse and blood pressure to rise, similarly to how your body reacts when you exercise.
Reducing stress: Laughter increases our stress resilience. When we laugh the stress hormone levels decrease and the amount of oxygen flowing through our brain and body increases, which is great for our mental health.
Relaxing and revitalising: Along with reducing stress, laughter also increases our energy levels. Therefore, we can stay focused more easily.
Enhancing mental and physical well-being: Laughter improves overall mood and functioning and reduces loneliness. It’s hard to feel negative emotions when laughing.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly