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Laugh your way to better health

By Mark 28 Jul 2019
Two female students laughing while they study.

My journey began with a chance encounter with a return serviceman after a comedy show I had performed on a cruise. I was told that the serviceman had not laughed out loud for three years due to post-traumatic stress, until attending my performance.

It was quite an emotional experience, because here’s a guy standing in front of me saying,

You’ve done more for me in one night than three years of counselling, medications and everything else, because you’ve made me laugh for an hour.

It really started to make me think that maybe there’s more to being a comedian than simply walking on stage and making people laugh.

This initiated my interest in understanding how humour and laughter affect a person psychologically and how this can be used to improve the lives of people who suffer from mental illness. My passion for the topic stems from a career in comedy, as well as my personal experiences with medicating depression.

I spent the best part of 15 years on antidepressants, different types of medications for depression, and a lot of people that suffer from depression will say the same thing.

After eventually finding the right combination of professional support networks, including the right GP, psychologist, and types of medications, I spent two years consciously putting myself first to break the cycle I was in. Exercise, meditation and journaling were all part of this self-help regime, but I believe that sharing laughter has been equally important.

During my study journey, I have found a connection with reducing the effects of stress, anxiety and depression through incorporating more humour and laughter into our daily lives.

As part of my masters degree, I conducted a Pilot Study of my unique Humour and Laughter Education (HALE) program for people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. Over a five-week period, participants would come to have a one-on-one session with me to help them understand more about the psychological benefits of humour and laughter. This process also gave the participants practical tools to help enable them to increase their daily exposure to humour and laughter. The results of this study showed reduced scores to the levels of stress, anxiety and depression for all of the study participants.

Reducing your level of stress for example could begin by incorporating the following four steps into your daily life:

  • Firstly, identify what makes you laugh.
  • Secondly, build a ‘laughter library’ of things you can access easily that make you laugh.
  • Thirdly, engage in laughter therapy sessions.
  • Finally, share laughter with others, not through technology, but through spending time in the presence of other people and laughing together.

So, what makes you laugh? How can you bring more laughter into your life? And, how can you bring more laughter into the lives of those around you?

One day I hope to have the Humour and Laughter Education (HALE) program as part of the mental health planning process undertaken by mental health clinicians. But for now, I encourage people to begin testing out the method for themselves by incorporating more laughter into their daily lives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental stress, USQ’s Counselling team offers a range of Student Support to help you learn more about managing your mental health. Additionally, you can participate in USQ’s free, Headstrong online program to learn how mindfulness skills can help you succeed at uni and in life. If you are experiencing a psychological crisis and require urgent after-hour support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or your local hospital, which are available 24 hours. For all emergencies, dial 000.

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