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Use Laughter to Change Your Mood

We’ve all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Is there any truth to this maxim or is it an old wives’ tale? According to “Is laughter effective complementary medicine?” by Florence Chaverneff, PhD (Psychiatric Advisor, 9/26/16), it’s true. Then, why not use it to help manage the internal distress that drives dysregulated eating?

The article about gelotology, the study of laughter, explains the neurochemistry of what happens to us when we laugh and how to put this knowledge to good use to manage pain. Studying the brain pathway for laughter, research tells us that laughter affects our bodies in several positive, healthful ways, including “muscle relaxation, improved respiration and enhancement of immune system defenses, mental functioning and pain tolerance.” It does this through four channels: “1. physiological effects on the muscular, cardiovascular, immune and neuroendocrine systems; 2. the promotion of one's emotional state; 3. the improvement of one's stress-coping strategies and tolerance to pain; and 4. the improvement of one's interpersonal skills.”

I use laughter frequently in my therapy sessions, in part because humor is a major part of my life and, also, because it relaxes people enough to take in ideas which might otherwise make them uncomfortable, giving them a new perspective, other than doom-and-gloom, for looking at eating and other problems. Sometimes a client enters my office in a terrible mood and if I can get them to smile or laugh, suddenly he or she doesn’t feel so badly. A major mood shift happens. Of course, we mostly talk about serious subjects and I don’t want to trivialize or minimize distress, sorrows or trauma. But it often helps clients to know that there’s nothing wrong with laughing at some of life’s problems or poking a bit of fun at themselves for having them. We humans can certainly take ourselves way, way too seriously!

Having an eating disorder isn’t fun by any means. And how could anyone think that it’s anything to laugh at? Yet, some of our funniest comedians have used their addictions, mistakes, or failures as the basis of brilliant comedy. I’m not suggesting that you laugh away your troubles or feel a need to fix a permanent smile on your face. I’m proposing that you do a couple of things. First, that you make sure that no matter how miserable you feel, you have fun and experience laughter every day. Second, that you look for humor in your dysregulated eating. I remember binge-eating in the car before attending a professional event and nearly walking into the room with a piece of fried chicken skin hanging from my hair. Good thing I passed by a mirror on the way into the room, huh?

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