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How laughter boosts your mental health

Written by Oge Okafor
~The SUN Nigeria. 30th October 2016.

faceLaughter is the best medicine, so goes a popular quote, which might be the reason why comedians like Alibaba, Bovi, Basket mouth and others have not only carved a niche for themselves in entertainment but   are also smiling to the bank.

When it comes to relieving stress, particularly in times like this in Nigeria where economic recession and political strife seem to be stifling our happiness and existence, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor recommends. In order to regain your sanity, have a good laugh. Scientists say it takes about 43 muscles around the face to frown and just 17 to smile. Laughter does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief.

Mental health is simply a level of psychological wellbeing or the absence of mental illness. According to World Health organization, WHO, mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her potential, copes with the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully and able to make a contribution to the community.
The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO’s definition of health thus: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Meanwhile, Mental Health Commission defines good mental health as a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment. When we are mentally healthy we can form positive relationships, use our abilities to reach our potential and deal with life’s challenges.

Also, the author of  Shadows in the mirror – the many faces of depression, Dr Vivian Ikem during the recently commemorated World Mental Health Day stressed the need for public intervention in depression and mental health issues. She stated why it is important to educate people on the need to speak up as well as stop stigmatization of mental patients.

According to her “Nigerians hardly talk about mental health and many think of depression simply as sadness, weakness, weak faith, something that is demon-inflicted or influenced by black magic, something to be ashamed of or as an issue specific to western communities.

Mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardized criteria. It is a big health concern for low to medium income countries like Nigeria, which affects as many as one in five people.

A mental health problem also affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves but to a lesser extent than mental illness. Mental illnesses are of different types and degrees of severity.  Some of the major types are anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders and depression.
These illnesses may also be referred to as mental disorder, mental impairment or psychiatric disability. Depression, which affects both young and old, has been predicted by the World Health Organization to be the leading cause of death and disability by 2020 only after ischemic heart disease.

Mental illness results from complex interactions between the mind, body and environment.  Factors which can contribute to mental illness are long-term and acute stress, biological factors such as genetics, chemistry and hormones, use of alcohol, drugs and other substances, cognitive patterns such as constant negative thoughts and low self-esteem, social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown or violence.

These factors can be minimized by a strong and supportive community environment.

According to Mayo, a good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.

Short-term benefits
A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally; it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs
  • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response
  • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension
  • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation both of which can help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.

Long-term effects
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:
  • Improve your immune system
  • Negative thoughts result in chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuro peptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.

Relieve pain

  • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increase personal satisfaction
  • Laughter can make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood
  • Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
  • When it comes to health in later life, researchers find laughter may really be the best medicine. A new study led by Georgia State University, suggests combining laughter with moderate exercise may improve the mental health of older adults as well as boost their motivation and ability to engage in physical activity.

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