Laughing for just five minutes a day can help you beat lockdown blues, psychologist says


One of the best shows I discovered last year was Schitt’s Creek. I tapped into the Emmy Award-winning and now Golden Globe-nominated show just as it was wrapping up its sixth and final series - and was surprised to find I felt a sense of joy in anticipation of watching each episode.

For me, consuming feel-good content has been the key to looking after my mental health through the pandemic.

I’ve swapped dense, dramatic novels for rom-coms, serial killer documentaries for light-hearted comedy and I’ve limited the way I consume news as well (not an easy feat for a journalist).

It’s no secret that this third lockdown has hit harder than most as we slog through the deepest depths of winter, so is injecting a touch of humour to your day the key to staying positive and, dare I say it, happy?

“Humour has been key for getting through tough times – by lifting our mood, we can get a sense of hope and a lighter feeling. It can momentarily remove us from the pain – allowing healing and a sense of optimism to creep in,” Counselling Directory member Dee Johnson tells Yahoo UK.

“In lockdown, where we are so disconnected from people, places and things that we love and enjoy, laughing is a fantastic connector.

“We get such a wonderful feeling, even if it's brief, this can motivate us to reach out and share this happy moment with others, thereby spreading the good feelings and connecting in a happy and positive manner.”

Consuming feel-good content such as TV shows, films and books can have a direct impact on our mood too.

“Research has shown that laughing releases feel-good hormones, specifically dopamine, which not only feeds the reward system of our brain with a sense of real pleasure and euphoria, it also creates a motivation to want to continue this effect,” Johnson explains.

“Laughing gives an actual boost to our immune systems, much needed at this present time, and can even regulate blood pressure.

“The physical act of laughing also enhances your oxygen intake, giving your vital organs a quick boost - hence you may feel physically and mentally better after a stressful day by coming home and watching 30 minutes of a comedy show.”

Laughing can also suppress the production of stress hormones, like cortisol, and give us a respite to any hurt, anger and pain we may be feeling.

Johnson says laughter is needed now more than ever, as when you are laughing with someone (a character in a book or on TV as well as real people) for anywhere from five minutes to half an hour can “give you an amazing boost”.

In fact, a 2008 study published by the American Physiological Society found that even the anticipation of laughter can help to lower the levels of stress hormones.

Lead researcher, Dr Lee Berk, said at the time: “Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well.”

It’s not just the telly that we can turn to for feel-good content. While social media gets a bad reputation mental health-wise, if it’s used to share memes, jokes and funny videos, it can help to form greater bonds with our (currently long distance) friends.

“When low mood, fear and depression kick in, it feels almost impossible to speak to someone, let alone text them. So sharing anything that makes you laugh has such a powerful, caring and motivating impact on a much larger scale,” Johnson continues.

“As stressful as your situation may be, just catching the odd moment when a friend shares a hilarious meme is not only beneficial mentally and physically, but also is a reminder that you matter, people are thinking of you and want to make you smile.”

If you’re not sure what content to consume, Johnson suggests re-visiting old comedy shows you love, watching new ones and sharing jokes.

“Finding time to laugh in your day is as important as cleaning your teeth and having your five fruit and veg a day,” Johnson adds.

“Engaging in something comedic may be the only time you get to find laughter that day. But it’s a reminder that, even if it's brief, it automatically puts us in a better place.”

By Laura Hampson, Yahoo Style UK

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