The Power of Laughter

Posted On Sep 16, 2013 By Bowflex Insider Team

Carla Ulbrich shares insight on laughter as a stress management tool

Laughter is the Best Medicine. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've heard that phrase so much it doesn't mean anything anymore. Sure, I enjoy a good laugh as much as the next guy – maybe even more. But how is that "medicine"?

I got to find out for myself. I was lying in the hospital bed with kidney failure, congestive heart failure, peripheral neuropathy (burning pain and tingling in hands and feet), anemia, lupus, and my left arm and lower leg had no feeling or strength as a result of two small strokes.

Before landing in the hospital, I had been in constant agony for months. I was living in Florida at the time, and the nerve pain would keep me up all night. As soon as it would let up around 6 a.m., those darn leaf blowers and lawnmowers would start up. I'd lose any hope of sleep, and I had pretty much lost my sense of humor.

The doctor announced that I'd be getting chemotherapy that would probably leave me unable to have kids. "I can't have kids? Wait, I don't want to have kids. Or do I?" And, I'd be getting transfusions. "What if the donors ate something I'm allergic to? What if they have bad karma? How many sharp sticks will it take for them to get that IV in my arm again?"

My odds for a healthy and happy lifestyle were looking grim.

Then my hilarious friend Saralyn came to visit. Now you know – and I know – that illness is very serious. How can you laugh at a time like this?! But Saralyn apparently never got the memo. She was jumping from one funny topic to another, just like she and I always did, until she got me to laugh about maxi pads!

The point is: she got me to laugh. It was as if she had turned on a light in a dark room. In that moment, I realized that no matter what condition my body was in, I – my soul, my personality – was alive and well.

From that moment on, I looked for what was funny in whatever was frustrating me, and turned it into a joke or a funny song. Being able to laugh about my situation gave me the power to choose how I felt about it. I was no longer a victim.

I am not the first person to discover the healing power of laughter. Norman Cousins, author of "Anatomy of an Illness", had a rare disease with no treatment – not even for the constant pain that kept him from sleeping. His friends brought him episodes of the Three Stooges and Candid Camera (your taste in humor may vary), and he would laugh for ten minutes then fall asleep for two hours. He literally used laughter as a medicine.

Scientific studies have shown that laughter reaches the same pleasure center of the brain as cocaine and sex. Laughter also improves sleep, relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, reduces recurrent heart attacks, and even works as exercise, sort of like internal jogging.

I'm well now. Off all the meds, and back to playing guitar and singing my humorous songs onstage – of course, now many of them are about doctors, hospitals and drug side effects. Staying well when you've been diagnosed with lupus (or anything – or nothing!) means consistently maintaining a healthy set of habits. For me that means a special diet, appropriate exercise and lots of laughter.

  About the Guest Author:

Carla Ulbrich shares tips on laughter as a stress management tool

Carla Ulbrich (The Singing Patient) is a humorous songwriter, keynote speaker, and author of "How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This?" She has released 5 CDs and is often heard on Pandora and Sirius XM's Laugh USA channel.