After you receive the news that you have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, you may experience a wide range of emotions. You can be apprehensive about your future. You may be sad about the idea of your disease getting in the way of your relationships with your loved ones. And you may be very angry about the effects of asbestos exposure.
It it understandable that you feel there is very little in your life to laugh about at this moment. However, we are learning from scientists and patients alike that laughter may not literally be the best medicine, but it can certainly make for a great complementary therapy.
Doctors have used jokes for hundreds of years
The idea that laughter and humor can have positive effects on the health of patients is not new. Experts from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) note that as early as the 1200s, surgeons used humor to take their patients’ minds off of an operation. However, it was not until the 1900s that scientists tried to understand the phenomenon. In 1979, one journalist published a book in which he described treating his own spinal disease with a combination of vitamins and comedic movies.
Today, this concept forms the foundation for laughter therapy, which is also known as humor therapy. This approach alleviates medical symptoms through the body’s physiological processes during fits of laughter.
How do laughter and humor heal?
Scientists are not entirely sure of how laughter can heal the body, but the evidence is certainly there. One study showed that patients who viewed a comedy video experienced reductions in pain and stress-related hormones, as well as better immune system function, after the video.
Additionally, the CTCA reports that there is evidence indicating that laughter therapy may:
- Support the circulatory system.
- Improve oxygen intake.
- Relax the muscles throughout the body.
- Stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
- Relive stomach pain.
- Improve blood pressure.
- Boost mental functions, such as memory and alertness.
- Promote a good attitude.
- Reduce tension and stress.
- Alleviate sleep problems.
- Fortify social relationships.
- Help create a general sense of well-being.
Therese Borchard, an associate editor for the World of Psychology blog, noted that laughter and humor are independent phenomenon.
“Laughter and humor, then, forge that space between stimulus and response, or between a thought and a feeling, between an event and an emotion. And in that pause is the freedom to adjust our perspective and our interpretation of our situation. It seems small. But it’s rather substantial,” she wrote.
There are many ways to enjoy laughter
So where do mesothelioma patients go for a good laugh? Some medical facilities across the U.S., including the CTCA, formally offer laughter therapy as a form of complementary medicine. In these group sessions, patients follow a leader that takes them through several drills that involve laughter. Although some of this laughter is faked for the sake of exercise, it can soon become contagious.
For those who feel more adventurous, stand-up comedy clubs offer a great opportunity for laughter. You can check your local event listings to know who is in town.
However, you should also remember that comedy is a subjective experience. If you do not feel that a comedy club is the way to go, try to sit down with a funny movie or television show.