- Carol Michaels
Hugs and Laughter Help Reduce Stress
In one of my previous posts about reducing stress, I briefly mentioned the benefits of hugging and laughter to help reduce stress. They are such fun, easy, and powerful techniques that anyone can do just about anywhere, I thought it was time to dive a little deeper and look at why they work and how we can actively start using them to reduce the negative effects of chronic stress.
Let’s start by talking about hugs. Have you ever noticed how a good hug will make you feel better? It calms you and changes your entire outlook on the world and whatever it is that’s been upsetting or stressing you out. Turns out there’s some science behind hugs and a reason we start to feel better.
There are measurable effects on your heart and on the stress-level of your brain activity when you hug and those benefits will ramp up significantly around the twenty second mark. As an added bonus, your body will release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone. It’s no wonder your whole outlook starts to change after a good hug.
Start to hug your loved ones or your favorite pet more often and when you do, try to hold the hug for at least twenty seconds. Tell the other person about the benefits of these longer hugs. Before long it will become second nature and you’ll both continue to reap the rewards.
When hugging isn’t an option, or if you don’t enjoy them, give laughing a try. It relieves tension and reduces stress. As an added benefit, you’re drawing more air into your lungs, resulting in more oxygen being delivered to your heart, brain, and other important organs. Laughing often can even improve your immune system.
Put on a funny movie, watch a TV sitcom, read some funny cartoons, call a friend who makes you laugh, or just start laughing and fake it until you start to feel it. Laughter, it turns out, really is great medicine and great for both body and mind.
Fun fact for you. There’s even an entire sub niche of yoga practitioners who do laughter yoga as a stress busting technique. Can you see yourself taking a class where you go through various yoga exercises while also making a conscious effort to laugh out loud?
Let’s talk about mindfulness for a moment. Simply put, mindfulness is about paying attention and living in the moment. Think of it as taking the time to stop and smell the roses. It’s about cutting out the distractions and noise. It’s about choosing to focus on something in particular.
There are some big benefits to practicing mindfulness. Top among them is of course feeling less stressed. One of the reasons we feel stressed is because we are pulled in many different directions and are constantly bombarded by new information, media, and demands. Practicing mindfulness allows you to tune out the noise and give your mind a break. This in turn will help you relieve stress and by making mindfulness part of your daily routine, you can start to permanently reduce stress and negate some of its negative side effects.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. You don’t have to get into any long mindfulness meditations, unless you want to. You can start with some very easy and simple things. Let’s take mindful eating for example. Instead of eating in front of the TV or looking at your phone while you munch on a slice of takeout pizza, try this instead. Get out a plate and put your food on it. Arrange the slices of pizza and maybe add a small side salad. If you’re feeling fancy, grab a knife and fork. Sit down at the table and put your phone away. Focus on the food. What does it look like? What does it smell like? How does it taste? Savor each bite and pay attention to how your body is starting to react. Not only is it a great way to destress, you’ll find you’ll get a lot more out of each meal and this type of eating tends to keep you from overindulging.
Another great way to practice mindfulness is with a mindfulness meditation. Focus on your breathing and notice how the air rushes in and out of your lungs, what it feels like to have it move in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your abdomen.
You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. The hardest part is remembering to do it. Create one or two small rituals for yourself that focus on mindfulness. Maybe it’s a simple meditation in the morning, or really paying attention to that first cup of coffee. Maybe it’s going for a stroll after dinner by yourself where you can practice being mindful of your surroundings and the beauty you encounter. Give it a try and start to reap the many short and long-term benefits of practicing mindfulness.