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Feature Article

Laughter Is Good Medicine

Certified Physician Assistant Kristina Uehlin started her career in medicine as a medical assistant in a primary care clinic. She met with patients before the doctor, recorded their vitals and noted concerns.

Uehlin also took it as part of her job to share her happiness and positive attitude with patients, as well as her coworkers.

“The doctor used to tell me that when he would go in the room, his patients were already half-cured because of my smile and laughter,” Uehlin recalled.

Twenty years later as a primary care provider at Samaritan Health Center in Newport, Uehlin still believes and practices the saying, laughter is the best medicine. And there’s plenty of evidence to support the adage.

In medical studies, laughter has been shown to boost the immune system, decrease stress, improve mood and self-esteem, and to be effective treatment for chronic pain and diabetes and improving metabolism. This powerful remedy is also simple, free and has no side-effects.

Uehlin said in her experience, more than a third of people will suffer some form of depression and anxiety. And almost everyone has some experience with stress.

“We all can benefit from laughter,” Uehlin said. “It makes you feel better.”

When you laugh, it causes the muscles in your chest to contract and your heart beats faster. This increases blood flow and oxygen levels throughout your body. At the same time, it releases the endorphins from the brain, natural chemicals that ease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.

Uehlin likes to watch comedy reruns and spend time with family when she feels stressed. And pets bring a lot of joy and laughter to her life.

Carilyn Ellis, PsyD, a psychologist at Samaritan Waldport Clinic, agrees in the benefits of laughter. Studies of laughter therapy have shown how it improves the quality of life for cancer patients and the elderly and reduces complications for people with diabetes. Laughing uses more energy: we burn 40 calories just by laughing for 10 to 15 minutes.

Ellis said one of the greatest privileges in her role with patients is to witness their stories of recovery, growth and overcoming.

“These stories often have moments of darkness and unspeakable tragedy,” Ellis said. “Loss is an inevitable part of life. But one thing that can never be lost is humor.”

Ellis is an instructor of Samaritan’s PainWise – First Steps class, a six-week program that helps people manage chronic. Laughter is one of the pain management skills she teaches. Our bodies respond to laughter the same way we respond to short bouts of exercise.

Ellis encourages people to laugh, and seek out joy and humor.
 “Snicker at yourself, giggle and snort,” she said. “Laugh until you can’t see through your tears and you envision your stomach forming into a six-pack."

“Laugh to be happy. Laugh to burn calories. Laugh to reduce stress and to improve your immune system. Laugh to release and laugh to enjoy.”