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Lightening Up: A Mental Health Initiative

I remember years ago, before my son became a husband and a dad. A time when, for him life was more carefree. He told me “you gotta lighten up, mom.” I hate to say it, but he was right. I’ve often been too serious in life. I grew up with much older sisters and a brother so I thought I was a big kid/adult too. Not sure why but I always remember my mom telling me, “Frances, you are always trying to grow up too fast. Enjoy your childhood.” I didn’t listen. Admittedly, I have a hard time being goofy or silly.

When I think about it, it is sad. Laughter truly is the best medicine. If you can find the humor in yourself and in life then not too much will take your joy. I mean think about it, have you ever gone into a room where people were laughing and you didn’t know why? Did you suddenly find yourself laughing? You bet. Laughter like yawning stimulates the para -sympathetic nervous system (unless you’re a psychopath, then you are less likely to be stimulated because those with psychopathic tendencies lack emotion).

Recent *clinical studies have shown that contagious social laughter releases endorphins in the thalamus, caudate nucleus and anterior insula. This is a natural opioid release which causes a pleasurable and calming effect that promotes feelings of togetherness and safety.

This simple act of laughter can do so much for you physically and mentally:

  • Ease anxiety

  • Relieve stress

  • Relax the whole body

  • Improves mood

  • Draws you closer to others

  • Shift your perspective

  • Helps to release negative thoughts

  • Reduces your judgement of others

  • Releases your inhibitions

When I was younger my mom gave me sage advice as a new wife and mom. She told me when I got in an argument with my husband or felt like screaming at my kids to just bust out laughing. Mom’s been gone for many years now, but I was reminded of it a few weeks back when I was watching my grandsons.

I had to return something to a store. I put my 1 year old grandson who was asleep in the stroller and the 4 year old decided as the big brother he would push him. In an effort to nurture his self-esteem I encouraged him to proceed without intervention as long as he stayed within my sightline and didn’t wander off. He took me literally, following me with every turn through the racks of clothing. I stopped to look in the athletic department when the stroller driver banged into the base of a mannequin display. This was probably the third time he had banged into something with the stroller and I was getting to be a little irritated. Suddenly I heard him say “Grandma! What do I do now?” I looked over at him prepared to parent when I saw him standing there with the hand of the mannequin in his hand with an expression of pure terror. I don't know which one of us was more surprised. Normally I think I would have been impatient and said “what did you do!” but this time I just burst out laughing and then he burst out laughing. I don’t know if it was his expression or seeing this little being holding a fake adult hand in his little boy hand but the moment was priceless. The laughter totally diffused my frustration and stress and stopped me from scolding him a ruining a spontaneous moment.

There is nothing to worry about I was able to put the hand back on the mannequin. Even if I couldn’t have that moment that will be indelible was worth the possible ramifications. I only wish I had had a video camera going.

Another moment that has reminded me of the value of laughter is when I did my Resurfacing Course with Avatar. One of our exercises was so simple but so great. “Smile till you feel happy.” Harry Palmer and my mother had it right. My goal from this point on is to Lightened Up Living. I aim to be silly at least once a day. To break out into spontaneous laughter at least once a day. To seek out moments to share laughter throughout my day. These are my personal commitments. You are welcome to join me. I may not remember, I may fall short, but I hope in time this living Lightened up becomes second nature to me. I want to be laughing. The journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. If you can’t make a long term commitment then start with one challenge.

Here's your challenge laugh till you feel good, smile till you feel happy, put your attention on laughter and see what happens. You might just be surprised how good you feel. Let me know what you experience.

Lightened Up Living is our initiative to overall Mental Health Wellness. Keep looking for our posts for inspiration, holistic therapies and information on overcoming mental health challenges.

By Fran Piekarski

President, CEO and founder of Living Life with Dignity and Life with Dignity. A Certified Professional Guardian, expert in Hoarding Disorder, published author and speaker. Passionate about assisting and educating families and individuals with Mental Health issues and Dementia to create holistic, comprehensive solutions for care. "I strive to help those in these under served, under resourced communities uncover and support the best approach of care for their individual needs."

Resources: “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” “Study: Laughter Really is Contagious.”

Clinical Studies:

“Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans,” May 28, 2017 Journal of Neuroscience

“Reduced Laughter Contagion in Boys at Risk for Psychopathy,” September 28, 2017 Journal Current Biology

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