Laugh Your Way to Symptom Management
Most people think of laughter as a response to something funny. But recent research indicates that laughter is not just an effect, but also a cause—of various physiological responses that can benefit everyone, and perhaps especially people with fibromyalgia.
Studies have found that exposure to comedy can have an analgesic effect; that laughter can positively affect mood; and that laughter plays a role in improving immunity and reducing stress hormone reduction, pain, and blood pressure.
"Someone called laughter ‘inner jogging,’" remarks Mark Gorkin, the "Stress Doc." "[It] release[es] those pain-reducing, mood-enhancing chemicals."
"We also know the immune system is enhanced when we laugh; immune-cell suppressors are decreased; and we tend to be more inclined to do beneficial things physically," says Ron Culberson of FUNsulting, etc.
"If I’m watching a funny movie in pain, I’m distracted from my pain temporarily; if I’m in the midst of a stressful event in my life, and something funny happens, I am literally removed from that event for the time I’m laughing," he adds. "I believe that psychologically we regroup, compose ourselves, and are stronger to deal with the stress."
And humor works even in the toughest situations. Gorkin, who often consults for organizations going through a downsizing, uses humor to help staff deal with the fear and anxiety of losing their jobs. "I can’t tell you the energy and laughter that’s released; the room just explodes with wonderful healing and harmonizing energy," he says. "People don’t feel alone.
"That’s the paradoxical thing about making comedy. It’s precisely the tragic that inspires the comedy. We have to laugh … in order not to go crazy."
Try incorporating humor into your everyday life. It will improve your outlook—and it may even improve the way you manage your FM symptoms.
Keep "a joke jar at the front door filled with your favorite jokes, humorous book titles, or maybe cute license plate sayings," suggests Sandra Ellen Lefcoe in her book, The Monster Within—Fibromyalgia: One Woman’s Struggle in the World of Chronic Pain. "When someone comes through the door, ask him/ her to pick something out of the jar, and read it aloud."
Volunteer to baby-sit, or spend some time in a neighborhood classroom. Kids can inject hilarity into the darkest day.
Establish a "laugh lunch" with your friends, like Culberson did. "People would come together and just tell jokes and stories and embarrassing moments at lunch," he says. "It really replenished them so they could get back to the rest of the day."
Choose a way to represent your pain—by writing about it, drawing it, or painting it, for example. "Once it’s outside of you, you can shape it. You can take some control over it. You can then turn it into a joke," says Gorkin. "When you make things so exaggerated, it turns the scary into the ridiculous."
Discover—or rediscover—what makes you laugh: comic strips? Funny books? Old movies? Comedy albums? A certain sitcom? Late night talk shows? Jokes? Once you know what makes you laugh, incorporate it into your daily life (a "Joke of the Day" email or calendar may do the trick!). "You’re much more likely to see the benefits and start doing it more," says Culberson.
Let your loved ones know what makes you laugh—or find out what makes a friend laugh—and then participate in that activity together: rent a funny movie, visit a comedy club, clip funny cartoons for each other, email each other a joke every day.
Start a comedy book club. Choose a humorous book, a book about a humorous topic, or a book by an author that cracks up the members. Then gather together in a month to talk about the funniest parts of the book.
Find a support group you can laugh with. Try this exercise: talk about the stress FM brings into your life, with everyone in the group taking a turn. Then work together on a picture that draws together all those different viewpoints. "Everyone can relate," explains Gorkin. "You can see the common issues, poke fun at others and yourselves."