Confessions of a therapist

Why laughter really is the best medicine, says Helen Skene

I often think the best thing someone can watch when they are depressed is a kitten. Their crazy antics are hilarious and when they’ve finally worn themselves out and snuggled up on your lap, just stroking a cat has its own therapeutic benefits.However, it’s not so much the kitten but the fun factor that is so good for you. Whether it’s a little giggle or a deep belly ache laugh, the theory behind laughter therapy is the same.Laughter releases bursts of stress-busting endorphins into your blood stream. These are your body’s natural painkillers which leave you feeling relaxed and happy. Laughter can also be a great muscle workout and it increases the amount of oxygen in your blood.What is more, you don’t even have to have a real laugh. Our bodies are unable to tell the difference between a real laugh and a fake one, which means faking it, has the same beneficial effects. Marvellous!So why not give it a go now? Start with a little chuckle and build to a big bellowing guffaw. Try to keep it up for 20 seconds.I bet you feel really silly now, but hopefully a lot happier. If I told you that research had proved that just 20 seconds of laughter could be as good for your lungs as three minutes spent on a rowing machine you may not feel so daft.It is also true that laughter increases your natural immunity cells that attack virus and tumour cells. So who’s laughing now?Of course, as with all therapies there are a few contra-indications (conditions that prevent the therapy being recommended). Laughing after surgery is definitely out. It’s a case of not being in stitches while you’ve got stitches, or it really could turn out to be side splitting.Others who are banned from rolling-on-the-floor laughter are those suffering with glaucoma, hernias or haemorrhoids.Heavily pregnant ladies must also remain straight faced. However, when my first baby was two weeks over due (no laughing matter), friends recommended curries, hot baths and castor oil, but not one mentioned watching Only Fools and Horses or Harry Hill’s TV Burp.The other great thing about laughter is that it is contagious and once one person starts to chuckle anyone else nearby will giggle too, even though they may not know what they’re laughing at.Different things are funny to different people, so find out what makes you smile. It may be a funny film, a comedian, a poem or a joke. It might just be watching and listening to your children or grandchildren.Children laugh on average 400 times a day whereas adults only manage about 15, so even if their childlike expressions don’t have the sides of your mouth twitching, maybe the infectious nature of their laughter will do the trick for you.I love the things that children say. Just the other day my daughter was talking about the dinosaurs on Drastic Park. It sounded a much scarier place than Jurassic Park.Elderly people also hold a wealth of humour. My grandma used to go on holiday to Super Western on a Mare; she had a Dragalong (Dralon) sofa; and used deo-dor-rant to stay fresh!But the best one recently, was from my would-be-mother-in-law who stated that people were such a nuisance because they only telephoned her when it was convenient for them!More subtle than laughter therapy is positive thinking and positive talking. It is equally contagious and just as potent.We’ve all had times when we’ve sat down with girlfriends and had a good old moan about life and those in it. But afterwards, did you feel better for getting it off your chest or for sharing your sorrows with others? I know I didn’t. I just felt worse.They say a problem shared is a problem halved, but what if it’s a problem doubled? What if talking about doom and gloom just reinforces it.Russell Grant once told me through my ‘stars’ (and it was definitely directed at me and not any of the other millions of Cancerians) that it was a law of the universe that what you focus on expands and what you ignore contracts.So I decided to put this to the test, and the next time we had a girls’ night out I declared that my children were wonderful, my love life was blooming and my business was booming. It may have seemed a little far-fetched at the time but today it’s a reality. I guess some things in life don’t need a logical explanation.

By Helen SkeneComplements Mobile Health and Healing for Suffolk WomenTelephone 01473

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