Why do some things make us laugh? And why do we laugh the way we do? Why do we make a strange sound (for some, the sound is really strange) when we laugh?
There is plenty of research delving into these questions, but for our purposes in this blog entry, the main question is somewhat different. Let’s take a look at the ways in which laughter can support your ongoing sobriety.
The Benefits of Laughter are No Joke
So what happens in the body and the brain when we laugh? According to the Mayo Clinic, a whole range of good things occur:
- Laughter brings in a heaping helping of oxygen-rich air while also stimulating your heart, lungs, and muscles.
- Laughter releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) in your brain.
- Laughter ignites your stress response and then cools it down, increasing and then decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate, which results in feelings of relaxation.
- Laughter stimulates your circulatory system and promotes muscle relaxation, which also adds to a sense of relaxation.
Those are the short-term benefits of laughter—the stress relief you feel in the moments immediately after you have had a good laugh. But there are some long-term benefits as well. For example, laughter can support your immune system as positive thoughts release stress and illness-fighting neuropeptides. Laughter can also induce the body into producing its own natural painkillers. The act of laughing is also associated with increased personal satisfaction, a better ability to cope with difficulties, forging connections with others, lessened symptoms of anxiety or depression, and improved self-esteem.
That’s a long list of benefits for a largely involuntary act—and it suggests that finding ways to insert more laughter into your life is an excellent way to support your physical and mental health. Supporting your overall well-being also supports your recovery from a substance use disorder.
So the question becomes: Are you laughing as much as you could? If not, we have some suggestions for how to find more humor in your life. But first a quick word of warning.
A Disclaimer: Choose Your Comedy with Care
We would be remiss if we did not note that quite a lot of comedic material in the world is built around drugs or alcohol. On occasion, this focus is used in positive ways (the sitcom Mom—about a group of women in recovery—is a good example), but often drug and alcohol use is celebrated to one degree or another while it is played for laughs. Our advice is to steer clear of that sort of thing so that you are not tempted to give up your sobriety when you see others having a good or funny time using drugs or alcohol.
You may also want to think carefully about, for example, attending comedy shows in clubs that might have a two-drink minimum or something similar. There will likely be non-alcoholic options on offer, but you might decide that those sorts of clubs pose a danger to your ongoing sobriety.
There are Lots of Ways to Level Up Your Laughter
The world is filled to bursting with humorous content—sitcoms on TV, romcoms at the movies, farces on the stage, comic strips in the paper and online, funny books, stand-up specials (live, broadcast, streaming), amusing podcasts, and more. You can increase the amount of laughter in your life by seeking out content that reliably makes you laugh.
In fact, you can build moments of laughter into your daily schedule. Read your favorite comic strip in the morning. Catch a humorous podcast over lunch. Take a break and watch a clip of a comedian online. Wind down with your favorite sitcom. Whatever you choose to do, these intentional breaks for humor can be the perfect way to firm up the foundation of your sobriety.
All of these things can be beneficial, but we would suggest there is an even more powerful way to amp up the level of laughter in your life: spend time with family and friends engaging in fun activities that naturally lead to joy and laughter.
That might mean scheduling a regular game night or a regular viewing party that includes a funny movie. It might just mean sharing a meal or a cup of coffee and chatting with the people in your life who make you happy. The odds are good that more time with your loved ones will stave off loneliness (which is good for your sobriety) while also increasing the time you spend laughing.
Substance Use Disorders are Nothing to Laugh About
It perhaps goes without saying that substance use disorders are serious. Drugs and alcohol can upend your life in so many ways—and none of them are the least bit funny.
Happily, there is help available. At The Aviary Recovery Center near St. Louis, Missouri, we offer personalized care that will help you regain and maintain your sobriety. We also provide ongoing support as your recovery journey gets underway. If you are ready to reclaim your life, we are ready to get to work. We promise there will be no funny business—just expertise and empathy.