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A to Z Guide to Stress Management for People with Bipolar Disorder, Part 8: Use Humor and Laughter

By: Carrie Elizabeth Lin

This is the eighth in a series of 26 posts covering a variety of stress management tools and techniques, starting with the letter A. For some background information on stress and bipolar disorder, the blogger recommends reading her three-part series, “Getting a Handle on Stress When You Have Bipolar Disorder,” starting with the first one.

Reducing stress can help prevent illness and restore health. It can even improve the chances of survival in cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS patients. Positive emotions, happiness, laughter, delight can strengthen the immune system as well.

Welcome to the A to Z Guide to Stress Management for People with Bipolar Disorder. In this series I will give you a wide variety of stress management tools and techniques to try. Some go hand and hand, and some may appear contradictory—for example, changing your thoughts and accepting your thoughts can both work. Everyone is different. There will probably be some methods you like and some that don’t work for you. Also, a particular tool or technique may work better in some situations than in others. Keep an open mind, experiment, and discover what helps most.

And now for “H”: Use Humor and Laughter

We’ve all heard “Laughter is the best medicine”—and it turns out there’s a lot of science showing the positive effects of humor and laughter on health, including mental health. In fact, as a mental health professional, I attended a continuing education class called “Humor, Laughter and Health,” in which we learned about the positive effects of humor and ways to use it in different types of psychotherapy.

Laughter affects brain chemistry. It increases positive emotions and may reduce depression, anxiety, anger, and stress. Here are a few of the known benefits of laughter:

·Decreases stress hormones

·Boosts the immune system

·Releases feel-good hormones

·Serves as good physical exercise

·Reduces physical pain.

Humor can change the way you think, helping you put things in perspective or gain a new way of looking at a problem. It can increase resilience and make you stronger in the face of stressors.

Here are some ways to incorporate more humor and laughter into your life:

·Keep a humor file. Start a collection of funny materials—jokes, memes, websites, videos, songs, or other things that crack you up. When you’re feeling stressed or depressed, you’ll have laughter-inducing materials ready to turn to.

·Watch stand-up comedy videos. Watching comedy performances, in addition to making you snort and chuckle, can help you gain a different perspective on life. If you can catch a comedy performance live, even better. Laughing with others has been shown to have an even more powerful effect than laughing alone.

·Play with children. Most children laugh hundreds of times a day, whereas adults only laugh a dozen or so times. Playing with kids can bring out your playfulness and silliness and give you a good laugh. Playing with pets may have a similar effect.

·Try doing comedy yourself. Many of us with bipolar disorder have great senses of humor and can be good comedians. We’ve been through a lot and have interesting perspectives to share. There may be a stand-up comedy class or improv class near where you live. There is even a program, Stand Up For Mental Health, designed to give mental health consumers a voice through comedy. Another option is joining Toastmasters and giving humorous speeches.

·Try laughter yoga. Laughter yoga was created by a doctor and has been around for over 20 years. The premise of laughter yoga is that you don’t need a reason to laugh (in fact, in laughter yoga, humor isn’t intentionally used)—and that just laughing for no reason will increase feelings of happiness, peace, and relaxation. There are thousands of laughter yoga clubs throughout the world.

Reducing stress can help prevent illness and restore health. It can even improve the chances of survival in cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS patients. Positive emotions, happiness, laughter, delight can strengthen the immune system as well.

Reducing stress can help prevent illness and restore health. It can even improve the chances of survival in cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS patients. Positive emotions, happiness, laughter, delight can strengthen the immune system as well.

My personal experience: Humor has been a saving grace for me throughout my life, and I don’t know how I would have survived without being able to see things through a humorous lens. I have been part of a memoir writing class, in which I have written about some of the more traumatic parts of living with mental illness—with a humorous twist. It has been therapeutic for me, and entertaining for my teacher and classmates when I read my work out loud.

I recently attended my first laughter yoga class through the San Jose Laughter Club and found it really enjoyable. There were about 10 of us in the class, and we all stood in a circle while the instructor led us through relaxation and laughter-inducing exercises. The exercises involved stretching, breathing, clapping your hands in patterns, chanting (e.g., “Very good! Very good! Yay!”), and communicating with other participants using nothing but laughter. At the end of class, I felt relaxed and peaceful. I thought it might make me overstimulated, but that wasn’t the effect. I felt more positive for several hours after the class, and also a little tired.

A word of warning: I don’t know of any research on the effects of laughter on mania. However, inappropriate or exaggerated laughter can be a symptom of mania. Since everyone is different, I would advise using caution when it comes to laughter yoga or similar experiences. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that laughter can occasionally have harmful effects.

How to start: Find some funny stuff on the internet and start yourself a humor file. You can begin by doing a search for “humor websites.”

Additional resources: You may be able to find a local laughter yoga group through Laughter Yoga International, or you may find one through Meetup. If you are interested in learning more about the connection between laughter and health, the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor has lots of resources.

You can find the rest of Carrie’s IBPF posts here or read additional articles on her Addiction.com blog. You can also visit the website for Counseling and More, her private practice, or Bipolar Beast, a company designed to empower people with bipolar disorder.

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