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Learning to improve one’s sense of humor improves ones ability to manage stress and desensitize stressful situations. Humor (which draws laughter), if used appropriately can provide stress relief while changing our focus on stressful things and events, and minimize the intensity of the stress we may be dealing with.

Humor draws laughter.  Depending on the intensity, laughter involves compulsive rhythmic contractions of major muscle groups that are followed by a relaxed state. This natural process of tensing muscle groups and relaxing is used in most relaxation exercises such as progressive relaxation techniques and methods. The principles of rhythmic contractions of major muscle groups followed by a relaxed state can also be seen at work in laughter. Laughter, in reality, is the antithesis to the stress response. That is, it is impossible to laugh and be stressed at the same time.

In contrast to anger and fear, which evokes the fight-flight response, laughter dismantles it by reducing the amount of hormones such as adrenocorticotropic (ATCH) which activate the release of coritsol in the body during times of stress. Laughter is compared to exercise, according to William f. Fry, Md., professor of psychology at University Medicine School. In addition to pumping the heart and muscles of the chest, shoulders and neck, it also stimulates the brain, ventilates the lungs, raises the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and circulation.

A word of caution is called for here in regards to improper use of humor. If used inappropriately, humor can become a faulty ego-defense mechanism to avoid dealing with serious situations that demand our attention. Used improperly, it can be employed to amuse or uplift our own selves at the expense of stereotyping and putting others down.

You can’t cure cancer by laughing 50 times a day, but it will provide a lift in your sprits in such a way that it is sure to make a contribution to your health. Here are some guidelines for bringing more humor and laughter in your life.

  • Go deep when you laugh, don’t be afraid to get into it.
  • Learn to let go, lighten up, and look at the flip side of a situation. Laughing could keep you from crying if you had a choice.
  • Play tickle games with your kid, nieces and nephews.
  • Watch funny and comic movies with friends.
  • Do something absurd to get a laugh like wearing a funny nose or something.
  • Cut cartoons out of the funny papers and share them.
  • Listen to comic cassettes while commuting, cooking or doing chores.
  • Increase your daily chuckles.

Source: Personalized Stress Management: A Manual for Everyday Life and Work
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