How laughing can help you combat Blue Monday and SAD

The benefits of laughter can encompass both mental and physical health. (Getty Images)
The benefits of laughter can encompass both mental and physical health. (Getty Images)

We're smack in the middle of January, and right now, the double whammy of Blue Monday and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) might be making the short, cold days even bleaker than usual.

With winter comes colder weather, shorter days and less natural daylight, all of which can lead to SAD. Meanwhile, the phenomenon dubbed "Blue Monday", which is known as the "most depressing day of the year", has struck us this week.

But there could be an unconventional cure: laughter.

The NHS says SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, and is sometimes called "winter depression".

It adds that common symptoms of SAD include a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities, irritability, the feeling of despair or worthlessness, feeling lethargic, and craving carbohydrates among other things.

While the health service recommends treatments such as light therapy, managing stress levels, and getting in as much natural daylight as possible, the experts at United Mind have suggested adding laughter into the mix.

"Laughing for 10 minutes a day, especially during the winter, can have several positive effects on your physical and mental wellbeing," a spokesperson for the laughter yoga workshop says.

"It's worth noting that laughter's benefits are not limited to any specific season, but they can be particularly valuable during the winter when people may be more prone to certain health and mood-related challenges. So, try to find opportunities for laughter throughout the year, but especially in the winter, to keep your spirits up and promote your overall wellbeing."

Multiracial friends having fun in front of cozy fireplace at home - Winter lifestyle concept - Main focus on african wokman face
Laughter can help with seasonal affective disorder. (Getty Images)

Health benefits of laughing

Along with helping to relieve symptoms of SAD, there are several other benefits that regular laughter brings.

1. Stress reduction

When you laugh, it triggers a release of endorphins which are natural mood-lifters and can help to reduce your cortisol levels (the stress hormone).

One study from 2021 determined that laughter therapy can lessen pro-stress factors and "mood-elevating anti-stress factors to reduce anxiety and depression".

2. Boosts your immune system

Studies have shown that something as simple as laughing can help to boost your immune system and ward off viruses such as the flu.

One study even found that laughing can boost the average pulse rate from 60 to 120 beats per minute, along with supplying the body's cardiovascular system with oxygen it needs.

Study author Dr William Fry said: "There's no doubt that mirthful laughter stimulates the quantity of T cells, and also their vitality."

T cells are a type of white blood cell that helps your immune system to stave off germs and viruses.

3. Mood enhancement

A study from 2016 determined that laughter could be a "noninvasive and non-pharmacological alternative treatment for stress and depression" as it can release endorphins and reverse the stress response.

Laughter is important for social bonding. (Getty Images)
Laughter is important for social bonding. (Getty Images)

4. Pain management

One study from 2019 found that chronic pain sufferers who were shown a comedy video saw their pain levels reduced due to the laughter they experienced while watching it.

5. Social bonding

"Laughing with friends and family can strengthen social connections, reducing feelings of isolation or loneliness that can be more pronounced during the winter months," United Mind says.

6. Cardiovascular benefits

Along with its mental health benefits, laughing often could provide some physical benefits too. One study from 2016 of older Japanese adults found that the prevalence of heart disease was 1.21 times higher in people who never laughed than those who laughed every day.

What is laughter yoga?

You've likely heard of puppy yoga and hot yoga, but have you heard of laughter yoga?

Although this form of yoga might seem new to you, it has been practiced for decades. It involves voluntary laughter for a prolonged period of time in a group, which often turns into genuine laughter.

According to United Mind, you don't need a reason to start laughing. By laughing intentionally, the organisation says you will release endorphins, unleash your inhibitions, and encourage positive thinking, alongside other physical and mental health benefits.

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