We all are aware of the stress response, the "fight or flight syndrome." The physiological changes that occur when we are under stress provide the body with the instant energy it needs to move quickly to fight or run, as our ancestors did for survival. Today we experience these same results, but we do not usually have the options of running or fighting. It's a fact that negative emotions and emotional reactions to the negative things that happen to us cause harmful physical effects. Stress causes physiological effects: heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, stomach acids increase, the ability to digest food decreases, muscle tension increases, the ability to tolerate pain decreases, the oxygen in the blood decreases, breathing becomes shallower...your personality becomes shallower, your chances of winning the lottery decreases...it's just a terrible mess all around! Constant stress can cause negative reactions, such as lowering our resistance to disease or infections. The negative effects can happen whenever we have negative thoughts and feelings. Our minds are very powerful. People have had heart attacks just by working themselves up into a frenzy of negative, fearful or angry thoughts. Any perceived threat can initiate the stress response. This can range from someone screaming in your face to having to speak in front of a group. There is a powerful relationship between how you perceive what is happening to you (the threat) and what is going on biochemically in your body.

Laughter is the antidote to the stress response.

Researchers are studying whether people who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressures than the average American. When we have a hearty laugh, our blood pressure initially increases and then decreases below normal levels. Our breathing becomes deeper, sending oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body. With laughter, it is theorized that endorphins and other natural pain-relieving hormones are released, improving our ability to tolerate pain. Our ability to digest food also improves. So you are not only what you eat, but what you think and feel. Research indicates that the benefits of laughter may occur as early as a smile. You may be thinking “Okay David that is all well and good, but can you give me a real life example of how this works?” Sure. The other day I was driving in my car on the way to a “Humor and Health” workshop I was doing for the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson. On the way a guy cut me off in traffic. I was fuming. So this is what road rage feels like. I caught up to him at the light and was ready to give him “The Look” You know the look that you give someone that says “I hate you and wish a pigeon would drop something on your head.” Before I caught up to him at the light I thought “David, you should practice what you preach.” By the time I caught up I had a plan. Having severe arthritis, I carry a handicapped parking placard in the glove box. I quickly put the placard on the mirror and pulled my arms out of my sleeves so it would look like I had no arms. I grabbed the steering wheel with my teeth and pulled up to the stop light. Glancing over to him I smiled as much as one could with their teeth gripping a steering wheel. The mortified look on his face told me he felt remorseful for cutting me off. Our moods were both transformed by the experience. I was happy and no longer mad. He obviously was not angry. This better alternative than “The Look” was much healthier for both of us. I used a “Humorous fantasy” to alter my mood and feelings and believe me it works. I don’t recommend trying to drive with your teeth, but next time you’re angry, try thinking what your favorite comedian might do in the same situation. Laughing at stress beats adding to stress.

Author's Bio: 

David M. Jacobson, MSW, LCSW, author, poet, professional speaker and social worker, former college of medicine instructor and former national director of training, has seen and been through more than many have in a lifetime. Perhaps that's why he is the recipient of a Presidents Award from Flashnet Marketing, a Joy Mask from the Korean Broadcasting System and both a Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Hero Overcoming Arthritis Award from the Arthritis Foundation.
As a child he suffered the tremendous loss of his father. In his late teens, he was an exceptionally strong varsity wrestler. In his early twenties, the young athlete had a second degree brown belt in Judo and had dreams of an Olympic career. At twenty-two he was diagnosed with a debilitating form of severe arthritis that put him in a wheelchair and fused many of his joints. His weight dropped from 136 to 112. From fused bones to funny bones, ten years later, he went from a wheelchair to an award winning fifty-mile unicycle ride! His life purpose is now to share his discovery of how humor made his world better and can make the world a better place for you and everyone else too. His award winning book, The 7 ½ Habits of Highly Humorous People shows readers how to improve their sense of humor, improve their relationships, become happier and decrease prejudice as well.