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"Laughter is a tranquilizer with
no side effects."
(Arnold Glasgow)

The causes of health problems like anxiety and clinical depression are complex and multifactorial but, as we have previously mentioned, it is believed that an imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA etc., are thought to be factors. These chemicals are involved in boosting mood and reducing anxiety. Chronic stress can disturb this neurochemical balance and make us more vulnerable to developing psychological health problems.

Fortunately research has indicated that just as chronic, unmanaged stress can disturb this neurochemical balance, coping techniques like humour, exercise, talking therapies, relaxation, healthy eating can have beneficial effects on the neurochemical balance.

Dr Robert Ornstein and David Sobel in their book, The Healing Brain, say we tend to think of the brain as primarily an organ of rational thought but it is also a gland. The brain manufactures many chemicals that have a potent effect on our mood and it is therefore common sense that we use every possible strategy we can that will have a beneficial effect on brain chemistry and will reduce our levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

It may seem somewhat strange to suggest that we laugh when we may feel so very low, suffering with a very serious, unfunny complicated and painful psychological health problem. Anyone who has experienced such health problems knows only too well that there is nothing distinctly funny or humerous in trying to live with such problems. One of the symptoms of depression can be loss of sense of humour.

But we don't mean for you to laugh at your illness or find something funny in your suffering, far from it. What we mean by suggesting the use of humour is to use favourite comedy video and audio tapes, books etc, that appeal to your very own individual sense of humour in order to help boost brain chemicals that will help improve your mood and reduce stress's effects upon you.

It may be difficult at first, trying to use humour, because one of the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression can be a temporary loss of our sense of humour, but we need to try to stimulate our sense of humour, for just as our brain can produce chemicals that can make us anxious, stressed and depressed, the brain can also produce chemicals that can lift mood, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It's far too simplistic a notion to believe that laughing at comedy tapes will solve all our health problems on it's own, it won't, but research has shown it to be a useful strategy as part of an overall treatment package consisting of talking therapies, relaxation, medication (where needed), exercise, etc.

Even if we don't feel like laughing just by trying to laugh can help. Liz Hodgkinson in her book Smile Therapy discussed research by the French Physiologist Dr Israel Waynbaum whose research indicated that facial muscles used for smiling, showing anger, disgust etc, all trigger different chemicals in the brain. Smiling, he believed affects these hormones positively whereas all the other expressions have a negative effect. Recent research has confirmed Waynbaum's original research.


There have been many hundreds of scientific research papers written and published in prestigious, well respected medical journals that have indicated the beneficial effects of humour for psychological and physical health. Research has indicated that laughter used on a daily basis causes the following beneficial biochemical and physiological changes in our body; it lowers levels of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin, it lowers blood pressure, induces muscles to relax, improves respiration, massages internal organs like the heart and lungs, it boosts the immune system, makes us more resistant to stress, reduces pain, calms the nervous system, improves digestion, boosts mood relieving and pain relieving internal morphine-like chemicals called endorphins, it speeds the healing process, improves circulation, helps to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, increases blood oxygenation, helps the body release the pleasure chemical dopamine, lowers heart rate. It has also been found to reduce work related sickness by 50% by improving our psychological and physiological health.

Chronic stress increases our blood pressure, weakens our immune system and makes us more vulnerable to suffering colds, flu, glandular fever, herpes types infections, increases cortisol levels (a chemical thought to be one factor involved in causing/exacerbating depression and anxiety by affecting serotonin levels)


In order to gain the therapeutic benefits of laughter it has to be used regularly on a daily basis. To achieve this you could build up your own home comedy library of your favourite comedy videos, audiotapes and books. In the USA a number of hospitals now realise the therapeutic benefits of humour and have humour libraries where patients can borrow video/audio tapes and books of their faviourite comedians.

NB Take care with using humour if you have just undergone surgery, have heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.


1. Cousins N. (1998) The Biology of Hope.

2. Davis Brigham D (1996) Imagery for Getting Well: Clinical Applications of Behavioural Medicine, W. W. Norton Publishers.

3. Hodgkinson L. (1994) Smile Therapy, Optima.

4. Holden R (1993) Laughter, Your Best Medicine, Thorsons.

5. Humour an Antidote to Stress, Holistic Nursing Practise, 10(2), 1996, 49-55, Mentioned in

6. Jahnke R. (1997) The Healer Within, Harper Collins.

7. Klein A. (1989) The Healing Power of Humour, GP Putnam and Sons.

8. Ornstein A. Sobel D. (1987) The Healing Brain, Simon and Schuster.

9. Sobel D (1987) The Mind Body Handbook, Rx Publishers, USA