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Laughter is the Best Medicine

Written by Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW

Laughing makes illness more bearable

Sometimes life can seem so terrible that the only way through it is to laugh about it. Have you ever had such a terrible experience happen and then months later when you tell the story, you end up laughing about it with friends? Laughter is a release from tension and stress. It also lifts your mood almost instantly. Needless to say, humor has been an incredible asset in dealing with my illness and stressors. Looking back at my childhood, it was tough--not much to laugh about. However, my mom and I managed to find humor in life which took the edge off and made us feel as though things would be ok after all. Sometimes when my mom and I reflect on the hundreds of physicians I have seen and the numerous times I had an emergency as a result of illness, we find humor in our lives; we find a way to laugh about our endurance and it makes things so much easier.

Parent's who embrace laughter can increase the coping skills of their sick child

My mom used a lot of music as a way to release stress. This was really important--I was a child dealing with chronic illness and I needed to see an adult handle it lightly once in a while. I needed a break from the stress of illness. We enjoyed specific songs when I was sick. She sang the "chin- up" song, which was all about lifting up my chin and smiling and it would make the pain go away (a classic from Charlotte's web). "Tomorrow" from Annie--"the sun will come out tomorrow..." Sometimes when I was sick laying on the couch she would break out her Creedence Clear Water Revival or Sonny and Cher albums and hark the melodies, "It Ain't Me Babe" or "It's Gonna Rain Outside" and I could not help but laugh. She was so silly and the songs in general evoked laughter as she grunted "uh huh." She had a beat we called the "boom-ching" and whenever a song had a "boom- ching," she was off and running, being silly and belting out her version of the song. She made me laugh hysterically. Just thinking about her performances, I chuckle. Her comic relief helped me cope with illness and released stress from my body. We would come up with ridiculous sounds and phrases, playing with words, that were hysterical. Worry and tension faded away during these moments. When my mom was sad and I could sense it, I learned at a young age, if I could "shift" her focus towards laughter and humor, we both forgot our woes and felt better. Laughing is contagious. It feels good to laugh and to make others laugh.

Our friends and partners can help us laugh despite the difficult times

It can be very difficult to find the silver lining amidst pain. I take time to laugh and find humor in the good and the bad. It doesn't mean I don't take life seriously--it means I can change my perspective for the benefit of my mental health and emotional state. When I met my husband Scott, he is truly the king of humor. In fact he prides himself on being the "pun master." At first this was annoying, because it didn't seem like he was taking me seriously. What was really happening is he had a new perspective for appraising situations positively--perhaps healthier, than my own appraisal system?
Scott came into my life at the climax of my illness. I had reached one of the worst stages, was not working, and life had essentially stopped as I regrouped and formulated a plan as to how to stop the cycle of relapses that corresponded to my increasing stress levels at work and in my personal life. It was during this time that I discovered a physician in St Louis, Missouri--a long distance from California! When you mention a vacation to a new boyfriend, you think Hawaii, Disneyland, Mexico. This is very different from, "Lets take a trip across the country to see a physician!" Nonetheless, this physician was an expert in treating complex autoimmune conditions so I chose to make the trips frequently and Scott accompanied me.

The trips were long and frankly miserable. It took everything we both had, and at the time I had very little energy or health, to get through them. Neither of us like to fly and Scott, at the time, had miserable motion sickness (we resolved this with NAET an alternative treatment modality). To cope with the flights, he and I would laugh about our hectic travels to "Maui." When we were packing, we would joke about how we were lucky enough to fly to St louis and see the wonderful scenery of the area, on our little get away to the B and B at the Drs office. We were not going to Maui, but it helped to pretend. We were hardly staying in a B and B, but we could find humor in our get-aways by setting this tone for ourselves. We watched movies on the plane that we had already seen, but we would laugh about how we couldn't wait to catch up on the latest blockbusters. Humor and looking at these trips from this perspective helped us cope. While at the physician's visit, Scott would sleep in the waiting room and then laugh about how this was the most sleep he had received during the week and this was compliments of the Dr's B and B. Sometimes getting through the protocols I was prescribed was a feat in and of itself but Scott used his humor to see me through them. Laughing about it made it easier. We still laugh about our best vacations to St Louis, because they were so terrible, we are grateful we don't have to do them anymore, but more than that, the laughter kept us focused and able to get through it.