Laughing Is Good for You Make the most of humor's healing power
By Richard R. Rubin, Ph.D., C.D.E. Publish Date: June 2005
I believe in the healing effects of humor, so I was delighted to see an article that appeared in the April 2003 issue of Diabetes Care , a research journal I help edit.
The study was conducted in Japan and the participants were people with Type 2 diabetes. To start the study, all participants checked their blood sugar level and then ate a portion-controlled meal. After eating, half the participants attended a boring 40-minute lecture while the other half was part of the audience at a popular comedy show that also lasted 40 minutes.
Laughing lowers blood sugar levels Two hours after eating, all participants checked their blood sugar levels again. As you probably know, blood sugar almost always goes up in people with diabetes after they eat. In this study, the levels for the people who attended the comedy show went up much less than the levels for those who attended the lecture. The difference between the groups was a substantial 40 mg/dl.
So there you have it – proof positive that laughing is good for you. The researchers who ran this study said the lower sugar levels could have been the result of “muscle motion.” But you really have to wonder. It would take a lot of rolling in the aisles for muscle movement alone to have a 40 mg/dl effect on blood sugar.
Wouldn't it be great, though, if laughing was enough exercise to keep your blood sugar from going too high, or even to bring down levels that were already high? Just think about it: the best prescription for a 250 mg/dl blood sugar could be 60 or 90 minutes of good solid laughing. It might be hard to find the time to follow this prescription, but otherwise it sounds wonderful.
Diabetes and stress Laughter is also a great stress reliever, and we know that stress hormones can raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. People I talk to say they often go high when their bodies are stressed physically by an illness. Many people also recognize the same response when their bodies are stressed emotionally. Does your blood sugar go up when you are under pressure? I had a patient who said the only way he could keep his blood sugar from going through the roof on days the regional manager visited his office was to take twice as much insulin as he usually did.
Sometimes stress is more chronic. Chronic stress can also interfere with good control, because it can lead to a condition I call “diabetes overwhelmus” (feeling overwhelmed by the day-to- day demands of diabetes) or even to clinical depression. Both these states make it really hard to take good care of yourself, because you just don't have the energy for it. If you are feeling overwhelmed or think you might be depressed, please talk to your health care provider, because help is available. Getting that help will not only improve your outlook on life, it could also improve your blood sugar control by making self-care more manageable and perhaps by reducing the effects of those stress hormones.
Laughter is a great stress reliever The first time I experienced the effects of laughter on diabetes-related stress was the day my son Stefan's diabetes was diagnosed. Sitting in the pediatrician's office worrying about my son and listening to all the ways our lives were going to change left me feeling overwhelmed. Then, when the doctor told me to pull down my pants and stick myself with a syringe needle to show my son it didn't hurt too much, a crazy thought went through my mind: “Thank goodness I'm wearing clean underwear.” I laughed, my son laughed, and suddenly things felt a little more manageable to both of us. If we could laugh, we could cope. That laughter gave us the confidence we needed to start living with diabetes.
Over the years I've heard so many stories about the power of laughter to lighten the load. Like one from a woman I met a few years ago. She had awakened the night before in the throes of a really bad low blood sugar reaction. Unfortunately she had forgotten to put her graham crackers and juice beside the bed, and she felt too shaky to get up and go downstairs to the kitchen. So she awakened her husband who staggered groggily down the stairs to fetch her food.
The minutes passed as the woman lay in her bed shaking and waiting. Finally, just as she was about to crawl out of bed to find her food and her husband, he came staggering back up the stairs, empty-handed. “Where is my food?” the woman demanded indignantly. “Oh my gosh! I ate it myself,” her husband blurted. A few brief moments later the woman was eating her crackers and drinking her juice while she and her husband laughed over a story they would enjoy for a long time.
Adding laughter to your diabetes care plan How can you make the most of humor's healing power? Seeing the humorous side of life with diabetes can help a lot. Regularly enjoying things that make you laugh can, too. Start the day with the comic strips instead of the front page; choose comedies when you are watching television or going to the movies. Take time to appreciate the funny things you and the people around you do every day. As a dear colleague of mine says, “People are funnier than anything.”
You'll see he is right, if you just take the time and the right perspective. If you do you will laugh more, and that will be good for your health, it could lower your blood sugar levels by reducing the immediate and long-term effects of stress. Who knows, it might even create some of that “muscle motion” the Japanese scientists were so excited about in their study, and that's a good thing.
Richard Rubin, Ph.D., C.D.E., associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, is the co-author of "Psyching Out Diabetes: A Positive Approach to Your Negative Emotions," "Sweet Kids," and "The Johns Hopkins Guide to Diabetes." He also has written extensively on the effects of diabetes education, psychological problems associated with diabetes and techniques for counseling people with diabetes.