Being a person in long-term recovery from various behavioral health disorders, I am often asked by people, “What works? What has made your recovery possible?” This usually happens as I am getting done with a presentation, walking off stage after spending the last hour or so sharing intimate details about my personal life in front of complete strangers.
I often give responses that, while true, are farther down on the list than one of the most important features of my life that truly allows me to recover and “right size” my place in the universe—comedy and laughter!
You may ask, “Why don’t you tell people the truth?” That is a good question. I guess I just feel pressured to come up with smart, educated responses like, “building a readily available natural support system” when I am asked because just saying, “I try to laugh a lot” seems too simple.
But here we are, today is the day! I am coming out of the closet and dishing out the truth about the self-treatment I have been doing with laughter, and I am being honest about how it helps me!
I take baths while listening to stand-up comedy on my phone.
Made much easier because we can now access YouTube and Pandora on our phones, a few times a week I sit for almost an hour in the bath at the end of the day, listening to stand-up comedy. This has been a favorite way of mine to use humor for a few years now. And, the best part is that it is free! Note: Set up your phone and then get into the bath, never the other way around. Cell phone companies usually do not cover water damage, even for medical purposes like this.
I rarely stray from watching anything but comedy movies.
I realized that most movies, aside from comedies, made me feel bad. Let’s be honest, at the end of a hard day, few movies are useful at helping most of us relax or feel good. Even the genre titles are too much for me sometimes: drama, thriller, war, real crime, horror, disaster—who needs that? In the end, this tip—making comedy movies a habit—has helped my life get better, or at least helped me be happier.
I have done stand-up comedy.
This tip came because of the great work of David Granirer and Stand up for Mental Health. Stand up for Mental Health gives people with behavioral health concerns a chance to turn their stories into stand-up comedy, and then perform their acts at conferences, treatment centers, psych wards; mental health organizations, corporations, government agencies, and, most importantly, the general public. I first took David’s course and performed after a short period where I was somewhat depressed and just blah. Instead of medicine or some more traditional approach, I figured I would terrify the blues out of my system by getting in front of people and telling jokes for 10 minutes. In the end, it was super fun and I was able to meet some great people, including one of my favorite people, David Granirer.
I spend time with children.
I honestly feel like you could just skip the first three tips I listed and have or adopt kids, or, more inexpensively, borrow someone else’s. Just watch and listen to them. I have even taken to recording their responses to questions, asking them simple things like “How do credit cards work?” Using that one as an example, I literally cried laughing when my son explained that after spending money on your credit card the company paid YOU back instead of the other way around. My kids, and kids in general, are non-stop laughs! I think any parent could write a book about the funny things their kids have done or said.
There! I feel lighter now knowing that the whole world now knows one of the true secrets to success in my recovery!
While these tips work for me and are really helpful in my life, along with peer support, employment, and working out—a growing body of research shows I am not the only one who has been benefiting from comedy. Researchers at Loma Linda University looked at 20 healthy older adults in their 60s and 70s, measuring their stress levels and short-term memory. One group was asked to sit silently while the other group watched funny videos. After 20 minutes, they were tested and the “humor group” performed significantly better when it came to memory recall and had considerably lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after watching the videos.
In addition, a Vanderbilt University study found that just 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories, and a University of Maryland study found that a sense of humor can help combat heart disease!
There is even a type of yoga gaining popularity that involves laughing! Who knew one of the secrets to living a healthy life was so easy and fun!