Skip to main content.

Laughter in Times of Stress [Podcast]

Posted March 24, 2021 by Megan Dean

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

What does laughter do to the mind and body? Megan Dean is a Laughter Leader and explains why laughing is beneficial, especially during stressful times. Take a listen and have a chuckle.

Featured Guest:

Megan Dean, M ed, AT, CHES, TTS, CLL

Megan is a certified Health Education Specialist, with additional certifications for leading Non-violent Crisis Intervention programs, Tobacco Treatment Cessation Counselling, and Laughter Programs.  She has been with Summa for over 18 years, and moves between Wadsworth, Barberton and Akron City providing educational classes to employees and patients.  On a day off she can be found enjoying time with her family, and coaching track and field at Wadsworth HS.


Scott Webb: It's been challenging during the past year to remember to laugh and smile, but taking time to relieve stress is probably good for all of us. And though laughter won't defeat COVID-19, it can go a long way towards raising our spirits and improving our mental health. And joining me today to help us all understand the physical and mental benefits of laughter is Megan Dean. She's a health educator and BCI coordinator and laughter leader at Summa Health.

This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. You know, Megan, it's been said that laughter is the best medicine. So what does laughter do to the mind and body?

Megan Dean: 
There's a lot of different things that happen when people laugh. A lot of good benefits come from it. Even just comradery between either coworkers or friends and family can help us reduce this feeling of isolation, especially if you're working from home or remotely or maybe have been affected by the pandemic going on and not working right now. Having that ability to connect with others brings us more than just joy, which is a pretty big important factor, but it brings us more than that.

It helps to reduce stress. It can help with some of those stress chemicals that get released when we kind of go through that fight or flight syndrome, which we tend to do when we get stressed even throughout the day. So it doesn't have to be a big event that occurs to release some of those hormones in our minds and our bodies. But laughter is a way to reduce all of that. So some of the aspects are physical and then there are definitely those mental benefits as well.

Scott Webb: 
I think that's so right. And I think, you know, during the pandemic, as I've been bingeing and streaming on a media content, let's say, I have gravitated more towards funny things, funny shows, funny movies. It doesn't take much, but I think you're right. You know, it a little after it goes a long way.

And so when we talk about laughing and its benefits, why is it particularly beneficial, maybe especially during these stressful times?

Megan Dean: 
Because everything is so stressful right now, we have to kind of give ourselves some grace. We have to have the ability to step back and not just get caught in the day-to-day of everything that we're facing and realize that most individuals, no matter what your job classification is, your giving of others, whether it's at work, whether it's at home, we got to be able to fill our own bucket again so that we can go out and continue to give and to serve others and to maybe, in some cases, bring some joy and laughter to others.

Scott Webb:
Yeah. There's no doubt. And you and I were talking before we got started here, this next one is a little bit tricky, but should we feel guilty about laughing while maybe so many others are suffering? Is it okay to laugh? I know you're talking about making sure that our buckets are full so we can be there for other people, so maybe that's really the answer.

Megan Dean: 
Yeah. And we really shouldn't feel guilty. The benefits, that we get when we talk about those mental benefits, are really derived from merciful laughter because that's that genuine laughter where sometimes you don't even need a reason to laugh, you just start laughing or maybe it is at a comedy TV show or with friends, but it's a genuine based laughter. It's not when you're laughing at somebody.

So even in times you'll hear things like dark humor. That's okay too, because when that's occurring, you're not laughing at people, you're not laughing at the misfortune of others. It's a way to actually reduce some of this burnout that so many industries are facing, not just healthcare, but other industries as well, because people are dealing with not seeing people on their best day or, you know, having to care for somebody and it's a very difficult case, where maybe things don't turn out so great. That way, there's a lasting effect that stays with people.

Again, in any industry, whether if you're helping take care of patients or maybe a family member at home, sometimes inappropriate laughter, what people would deem as inappropriate laughter, is a way to kind of release, I guess, for a lack of a better term, toxins from our system. Laughing is a lot like crying in that aspect. And that's why we try to tell people you should never tell somebody to stop crying or stop laughing, because it's what they need at that time to kind of release those emotions so that they don't hold it all in.

Scott Webb: 
Yeah, I think you're so right. Sometimes we just need a good cry, we need to laugh. And when we talk about the different types of laughter. This may be a little off the rails for younger listeners, but, back in the day when I was a kid, a lot of the TV shows use these laugh tracks like M*A*S*H and some other shows. And there was this one laugh that kindle after every time I heard that guy laugh, no matter whether what was on the screen was funny or not, it always made me laugh.

And so let's talk about that. Let's talk about the different types of laughter and can hearing other people laugh-- sort of like yawning, can hearing laughter make you laugh?

Megan Dean: 
Yes, absolutely. And that's one of the ways that when we do a laughter program or I go out and I present to different groups or companies this topic, I rely a lot on that actually. Because it's hard to get people, if I say, okay, "Let's start laughing," people kind of look at you strange, so we kind of set them up or prime them with different exercises, but there are different types.

A lot of times people will assume that laughter is like humor and laughter is more of a response to humor. Humor, you have to, you know, either be a part of the joke or get the joke or find that topic funny. Laughter is just laughing. Kind of like laugh tracks, I think they were onto something when they started using them because when we hear other people laugh, just like you mentioned when we see other people yawn and sometimes if you see somebody cry, we have that same response. And that works on the mirror neurons in our brain.

So it shows actually empathy and it shows that we're trying to be a part of something bigger than just us. And so that laughter is contagious. You might notice it with friends when you start laughing so hard that you can't stop. And then, after a while, you don't even remember what you started laughing about and then you're just laughing that everybody's laughing.

Scott Webb: 
That's the best. You're so right. Yeah.

Megan Dean: 
I was just going to say that's some of the best.

Scott Webb: 
You get done laughing and you're like, "Wait, what were we laughing about?" "Nah, it doesn't matter." You know, it really is contagious, you know? And it's so interesting referring to laughter as medicine and we're using all these terms like contagious, but you know, I'm thinking about, when you see somebody yawn, it makes you want to yawn; when you hear people laugh, it makes you want to laugh. So is it bad to hold a laugh in? Is it sort of like holding a sneeze in?

Megan Dean: 
Not necessarily. I mean, there are times where you don't want to laugh at that very moment, but you kind of want to remember it later on. For instance, sometimes kids say the funniest things. And as a parent, you don't want to laugh at that moment because you might be trying to teach them something, but you're trying to hold it in. That's not necessarily bad, no.

Scott Webb: 
Yeah. When my kids were little, two-year-olds will say the darndest things and we didn't want to laugh in front of them, but it's like, "I'm going to schedule this laugh for later when they leave the room, because I need to laugh about this," right?

Megan Dean: 
Yeah. You want to write it down and remember it for the future, maybe play it back when they graduate high school or something.

Scott Webb: 
Yeah, my wife kept a list of all the funny things that our son said that just made us laugh. And we still laugh about them to this day and he's 17, you know.

Megan Dean: 

Scott Webb: 
So let's talk about therapy and how do you integrate laughter into therapy?

Megan Dean: 
There are different groups around the country actually that have laughter therapy sessions, where they'll meet either weekly or monthly. Now, of course, with the pandemic, a lot of people have gone virtual with these programs. And they'll actually have classes where they start doing just different exercises, like follow the leader where I would just start laughing and everybody tries to mimic me just to kind of get things going.

And so people run formal sessions like that. I also suggest for the people I go out and talk with to start small. One of my favorite things is just to laugh while you drive or maybe at a stoplight, that's probably safer, because people don't know if you're on the phone, so it kind of takes the anxiety or the awkwardness away from you. And you'd be surprised if you look around while you're driving, not many people are smiling. I don't know if you've ever paid attention to that if you just happened to be driving through, know.

Scott Webb: 
Yeah. Everybody looks so serious.

Megan Dean: 
Yes. Yeah. So if you're parked at the light and you just started laughing and other people see you, it's going to cause that mirror factor and they're going to smile. And that's where it usually starts, trying to bring a smile to somebody.

I went, probably about 10 years ago now, through training to become a certified laughter leader. And one of the things that was part of the program, and I went through the World Laughter Tour Program here in Ohio. It was started actually by a psychologist down in Columbus.

And one of the things that he included-- his name's Steve Wilson-- and he included this Good-Hearted living idea into all his programs and I've included as well now, because what it does is it takes just a simple thing that we can focus on each day to try to introduce people to more joy and laughter.

So we just break things down. Like Mondays, we try to think about giving people compliments, because a simple thing can really turn the day around for somebody. I think we take it for granted, but not only are you helping somebody else feel good, but you get a little bit of that reward too, when you're going out and saying nice things about others.

Tuesdays are about flexibility and maybe trying to break out of that normal mindset of maybe if somebody cuts you off on your drive to work instead of, you know, yelling things which they can't hear, just trying to take a breath and just letting it go basically.

Wednesdays are really focused more on what I think is extremely important and that's gratitude. If we had more gratitude for each other and in all around in our lives, whether it's at work, whether it's at home, I think gratitude is kind of the key to unlock some of the happiness. There's a lot of bad stuff going on now. You know, I tried to wind it down to just that, there's a lot of bad stuff going on. And gratitude is the one way that we can step back and think I still have a lot of good. There's still something good, even in the darkest times. I've been witness to, even in the darkest times, people still being grateful and thankful for something in their life. And I think that gave them strength.

Thursday is thankfulness and Friday's a tough one, but we follow it up on the weekend with something good, but Friday's about forgiveness. And really when we're talking about what we carry around in our life, if somebody has upset us or done something to hurt us, we spend more time thinking about it than they do. And in the long run, that only hurts us. So being able to forgive doesn't mean necessarily forgetting. It's more about being okay with learning from that experience, not repeating it, but not carrying it and weighing your shoulders down.

And then, like I said, we follow it up with the weekends are for chocolate. And then back to what I said earlier, that simple reminder that we're so giving of other people and that can be a goal, to try to give maybe a little bit more through this Good-Hearted Living and, yes, to refill the bucket. So whether it's chocolate, whether it's being able to connect with friends, whether that's on the computer these days or by phone or hopefully in the next few months as things improve, maybe even those in-person interactions again, that's very important. Laughing is very important.

Scott Webb: 
It really is. It makes me feel good to know that I've been able to make people laugh. I really feel like I've accomplished something, especially if somebody you just know they just didn't want to laugh, whatever was going on, whatever place they were at in their lives, they just weren't in the mood to laugh. And if you could break them down and get them to smile and laugh, it just feels really good.

Megan Dean: Yeah, absolutely. I've even experienced that with some of the programs I've gone out to present and just kind of either heard bad news before I had to go out and do a laughter class or just wasn't feeling it that day, and I'd noticed in myself, as the course was going on, feeling better. You know, and I think that speaks volumes as to the significance of how laughter can improve your life.

There are some studies out there that say it reduces your blood pressure, that it can help with your immune response. These aren't like long-term things, but it shows that there is a benefit as you're doing it and we need more of it.

Scott Webb: 
Yeah, that sounds so right. And this has been so fun today. As we get close to wrapping up here, what are some tips you have to just have a good, healthy laugh?

Megan Dean: 
Okay. Well, I think we're more likely to laugh when we're with people or however that connection looks these days. But if you don't have that, it can just start with yourself. And like I say, start small. Biggest thing is give yourself permission to be silly or goofy at times, because sometimes people feel like as they grow up or get more professional, they have to reserve that part.

And I say, there's always time that we can make or carve out just to feel those benefits, especially if somebody, if this seems awkward for them, give it a try and see how you feel afterwards. So whether that's watching a couple minutes a day of like funny kid videos or animals, there's a lot of funny animals out there that people have put online and we can watch, and just kind of use that as a stress relief.

A few years ago, Skype did a laughter chain where it's just videoing people laughing at other people laughing. And that is a great way to get started. You just hear the different types of laughter and you start to smile and chuckle a little bit and then you start feeling, you know, what we've been talking about, how it feels good.

Scott Webb: 
Well, you know, Megan, when we got into the conversation today, I said that laughter's the best medicine metaphorically, of course, but you know, this has actually been really good for me today. You and I sharing a laugh, just talking about laughter, thinking about people laughing, picturing people laughing has been really good medicine, really good therapy today. Hope it has been for everybody else. And you stay laughing, I guess, and definitely stay well.

Megan Dean: 
Thank you very much. I've enjoyed this greatly actually.

Scott Webb: 
And we hope listeners have as well, and we hope everybody enjoys a good laugh with a friend today. And if you found this podcast to be helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and check out the entire podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals of podcast from Summa Health.

I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.

Healthy VitalsListen to more podcasts.


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.