What can you find to laugh about?

By Barbara Pierce

Life is grim these days. Watch the news for even a few minutes and your stress response will probably hit all-time highs.

The stress response is your body’s way of responding to any kind of threat. When you sense danger — whether it’s real or imagined — your body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction.

This is your body’s way of protecting you. It works to help you stay focused, energetic and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life — giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

Too much stress can work against you, said Dominick Nicotera, a licensed clinical social worker and founder and executive director of DRN Counseling and Consulting Services in Utica. DRN Counseling focuses on teaching effective ways of coping with life’s challenges.

When your stress response kicks in, your body releases a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, he explained. Overexposure to these hormones can do harm to your body and puts you at increased risk of many health problems.

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors we’re facing.

One of the best ways to take a break from life’s harsh realities is laughter. We all have a genuine need to roar with laughter, delight in the absurd, do wacky things, and laugh so hard water shoots out of our nose.

“Laughter is definitely a good way to relieve stress,” said Nicotera. “Laughter creates endorphins, the feel-good chemical. Just like exercise creates endorphins, laughter is in the same category — it creates endorphins and decreases stress.”

Whether you’re laughing loudly with friends or chuckling quietly at a TV show, laughing does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke.

Laughter actually causes physical changes in your body that cool down your stress response. Researchers found that 30 minutes after participants in a study laughed, the level of their stress hormone fell by 40%.

Laughter, health tie

As well as lowering your stress hormones, laughter has so many awesome benefits to your body:

— It boosts your immune system; effects last several hours after you laugh.

— It relieves pain by causing your body to produce its own natural painkiller.

— A rowdy laugh increases and then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result is a good, relaxed feeling.

— It helps you connect with other people.

— It improves your mood, lessens depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

— Put humor in your life: Many of us get more serious as we age. Watch babies and young children — they laugh easily and so hardily at the dumbest things.

You can encourage and develop your sense of humor; it’s easier than you think.

— A good place to start is with yourself. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Just think for a moment of the incredibly stupid, klutzy, harebrained things you’ve done in your life.

The key is in looking — you can usually find what you’re looking for.

— Find a few simple items such as photos, jokes, cartoons, greeting cards or comic strips that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office. Keep funny movies, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost.

— Hang out with people who make you laugh. Share your favorite funny stories or jokes with those around you. If you don’t have a good memory for funny stuff, make notes and carry them with you.

— Play a game with others that makes you all laugh. Taboo played with my family makes me laugh hysterically.

— The Internet has a treasure trove of things to make you laugh. It makes me laugh to see others laughing; laughter is truly contagious.

Try I crack up when I watch CNN’s Anderson Cooper describing the celebration of “Dyngus Day” in Buffalo. He can’t stop laughing and I can’t as well.

— Practice laughing. Even if it feels forced at first, it still does your body good. Fake it until you make it; your body can’t tell the difference. Fake works just as good as the real thing.