Humor and Healing: The Mind-Body Connection
"As it is not proper to cure the eyes without the head, nor the head without the body; so neither is it proper to cure the body without the soul." Socrates(Cousins, 56) The word, to heal, comes from the root word "haelen" which means to make whole. Bringing together the body, mind and spirit can be healing. The word humor itself is a word of many meanings. The root of the word is "umor" meaning liquid or fluid (Moyers, 221). In the Middle Ages, humor referred to an energy that was thought to relate to a body fluid and an emotional state. This energy was believed to determine health and disposition. In modern dictionaries, humor is defined as "the quality of being laughable or comical" or as "a state of mind, mood, spirit". Humor enhances the creative process and is one of the coping devices used to combat stress and disease. Humor can be used successfully in the classroom, in the workplace, in therapy and counseling, and in medicine to assist in the healing process (Cousins, 78). Laughter improves self-esteem, enhances social interaction, and generally makes life more enjoyable. Laughter can provide a cathartic release, a purifying of emotions and release of emotional tension. Laughter, crying, raging, and trembling are all cathartic activities which can unblock energy flow. Laughter is more than a visual and vocal behavior. It is accompanied by a wide range of physiological changes (Swencionis, 162). During vigorous laughter the body brings in extra oxygen, shudders the internal organs, causes muscles to contract, and activates the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. This results in an increase in the secretion of endorphins (internally produced morphine-like molecules). This "internal jogging" produces an increase in oxygen absorption, increase in heart rate, relaxation of the muscles, and increases in the number of disease fighting immune cells (Moyers, 230). Humor is a quality of perception that enables people to experience joy even when faced with adversity. "Stress is an adverse condition during which one may experience tension or fatigue, feel unpleasant emotions, and sometimes develop a sense of hopelessness or futility. Responding to these demands while protecting oneself from the potential harmful impact will help one to remain healthy" (Dreher, 27). Hans Selye, a pioneer researcher in psychosomatic medicine, defines stress as "the rate of wear and tear within the body" as it adapts to change or threat (Dreher, 20). In his book, Selye clarified that a person's interpretation of stress is not dependent solely on an external event, but also depends upon their perception of the event and the meaning they give it; how you look at a situation determines if you will respond to it as threatening or challenging. As an individual in crisis gathers new information about the impact of the crisis on his life, he begins to change the meaning of the crisis for his life. Early devastating thoughts are replaced with more realistic ones. As this process progresses, the meaning of the crisis to the individual's life changes, and therefore, the emotional impact changes. As the emotional impact lessens the individual becomes more receptive to a humorous perspective about the crisis. Illness and disease can result from an inability to cope effectively with daily adversity. Daily stress unchecked over time is the biggest culprit and perpetrator of illness. There may be some truth to the old saying, "It's the little things that get you." If laughter is so powerful it can help to cure diseases, think what it can do to help with everyday annoyances and stress (Dreher, 20). Stress has been shown to create unhealthy physiological changes. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, muscle tension, immunosuppression, and many other changes has been known for years. There is now proof that laughter creates the opposite effects (Swencionis, 152). It appears to be the...
Bibliography: Cousins, Norman. Anatomy of an Illness, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, 1979. Pages 39-150.
Dienstfrey, Harris. Where the Mind Meets the Body, HarperCollins, New York, 1991. Pages 71-90.
Dreher, Henry. The Immune Power Personality, Penguin Group, New York, 1995. Pages 7-45.
Moyers, Bill. Healing and the Mind, Bantam Doubleday, New York, 1979, Pages 213-237.
Ornstein, Robert and Sobel, David. The Healing Brain, Simon & Schuster Inc., 1987. Pages 138-160.
Ornstein, Robert and Swencionis, Charles. The Healing Brain, a Scientific Reader, Guilford Press, New York, 1990. Pages 147-158
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