Wine-Not Just Laugh About It?
Despite the enormous benefits of laughter, we are often just too tired and stressed, rarely taking the time to indulge in a good belly laugh. Today, adults just do not laugh as we used to, regardless of how much our body, mind, and soul benefit from it. The health benefits of laughter are even more far-ranging than we ever before believed, showing that laughter can help relieve pain, bring greater happiness, and even increase immunity. Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), while also increasing the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins. It increases the number of antibody-producing cells we have working for our immune system and enhances the overall effectiveness of T cells. This means a stronger immune system and fewer manifestations of the physical effects of stress, such as exhaustion, depression, insomnia, and weight gain.
Dopamine is the main player in regulating the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Along with laughter, red wine also increases the release of dopamine in your brain’s reward center. The reward center is the same combination of brain areas (the ventral striatum) that are affected by virtually all pleasurable activity, including everything from hanging out with friends to getting a big bonus at work or even having sex. When dopamine levels are low, you lose your zest and enthusiasm for life and begin to experience great difficulty completing tasks since this neurotransmitter is critical for sheer motivation, interest, and the drive to achieve.
Other than a release of dopamine, a major health benefit of red wine is that it contains resveratrol, which is located in the skin of red grapes used to make the wine. Resveratrol is part of a group of compounds called polyphenols that act as antioxidants, protecting your immune system and lowering the risk of heart disease and even cancer. Polyphenols such as resveratrol also contribute to a healthy gut by improving gut microbiota and assisting as a probiotic, as well as containing anti-inflammatory properties. So, having A (limited amounts please) glass of red wine not only relaxes you at the end of a long day but can also enhance your immune system and health.
Psychologists have found that being silly, losing yourself in the moment, and engaging in something pointless but pleasurable, like hanging out with friends and really enjoying their company, is essential to stress reduction, healthy relationships, as well as maintaining a sense of wellbeing. Laughing also increases the effects of GABA in the brain, creating a sense of calmness, and laughing is one of the most positive, healthy, and easy things we can do for ourselves, providing us with a huge lift, physically and emotionally. When you engage in laughter, you experience a physical cleansing effect, as well as a sense of emotional release. Not to mention, laughing is great for the heart and increases oxygen levels throughout the body.
Laughter connects us with others. It is as simple as that. The same as smiling and kindness (or even yawning), most people find that laughter is irresistibly contagious. Therefore, if you laugh more, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more, and they will be happier as well. By elevating the mood of those around you, you can reduce their stress levels as well as yours, and perhaps improve the quality of social interactions you experience with them, reducing everyone’s stress level even more. Laughing, smiling, and enjoying one another is truly one of the best ways to diminish a tough, stressful, or negative situation.
Laughter brings the focus away from anger, negativity, hopelessness, bitterness, and guilt like nothing else can. The act of laughing can bring you into the moment, which is something we desperately need since our rigid schedules tend to consume us, leaving us constantly thinking about the next thing needing to get done. Since our social norm is to juggle many acts of life at once, we are regularly running on high-stress levels. Play and laughter are some of the few aspects of our lives that are not about the outcome, but the acts themselves, and that is so healing. So, enjoy a glass of wine and feed into a pleasurable, gut-busting laugh, all while boosting your immune system!
If you would like to have your levels tested to ensure you are at your most optimal range for mind-body-brain, and hormones, book your appointment today.
Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Southern Oregon Magazine.