Misery may love company, but if misery were smart it might consider trying laughter before resorting to pharmaceuticals.
First, let me hit you with some troubling facts. “Antidepressants are one of the three most commonly used therapeutic drug classes in the United States. While the majority of antidepressants are taken to treat depression, antidepressants can also be taken to treat other conditions, like anxiety disorders.” This is according to the Center for Disease Control, which estimates that close to 13% of the U.S. population age 12 and over is now taking antidepressants, also known as SSRIs, which alter brain chemistry. The CDC’s study also found that one-fourth of those currently taking antidepressants had been doing so for ten years or longer, proving that long term use has become common. Between 1999 and 2014, the most recent statistics available, antidepressant use had increased by nearly 65%. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Several studies have linked the use of antidepressants to increased risks of suicidal behavior.” Additionally, ”Para suicide (attempted suicide) … is estimated to be 10–25 times more frequent than completed suicide.” Clearly that proves that antidepressants aren’t the cure-all the public has been led to believe they are.
Prolonged stress, regardless of the cause, can result in depression. Dealing with chronic illness isn’t just stressful, it is physically and emotionally draining on many levels. It can be drastically life altering as well, putting these individuals at significantly greater risk of developing serious depression. Too often people allow themselves to be consumed by these overwhelming, negative emotions. They dwell on the negative when communicating with others, or marinate in their misery by watching sad movies, isolating themselves, or trying to drowned out their misery with alcohol, food, or recreational or pharmaceutical drugs. This response to stress and depression is so common that society mockingly refers to this as having a “pity party”.
Pulling out of this type of downward spiral can be extremely difficult, and there is a physiological reason for this. The pleasure-enhancing neurochemicals in the brain are actually suppressed by depression. This is why stress and depression make people physically sicker, further facilitating the emotional downward spiral, and in some instances even exacerbating physical pain.
So what is a stressed or depressed person to do if they prefer to avoid the use of antidepressants? LAUGH!!! The health benefits of simply laughing are truly remarkable. I know it sounds, well, laughably oversimplified. However, laughter actually triggers the release of neurohormones in the brain, like dopamine and endorphins, without the need for potentially dangerous and addictive antidepressants. This means the act of laughing literally makes us feel happier. This is especially helpful for those suffering depression due to chronic illness, because endorphins also conveniently happen to be natural painkillers for the body.
So when you are stressed or feeling blue, enjoying a good laugh is a great natural prescription. A snicker or a chuckle is a good start. However, enjoying sustained, cleansing, belly laughter, especially the kind that brings tears to your eyes, is the best natural mood-enhancing medicine. I'll share a story to help you to better understand, and hopefully give you a good laugh in the process.
Often times laughter will strike in some of the oddest moments and most unexpected ways. A few years ago I was driving a chronically ill friend to a medical appointment. I had to drive a good distance to pick her up, and then we had to drive an even longer distance to the medical facility. Our only route was through the city, and the traffic was getting heavy. I was feeling stressed by the traffic, concerned that I wouldn’t get her to the appointment on time, and worried because I knew how much she hated medical appointments. All of this stress was causing my shoulders to become painfully tensed up. My friend was feeling a great deal of anxiety as well. She hated having to see more doctors in her ongoing struggle to have her debilitating symptoms diagnosed, and her level of anxiety was increasing with every passing mile and causing her to get fidgety. Many doctors had incorrectly disregarded her pain, heart issues, and other symptoms in the past as just “anxiety” or “psychological”, leading her to suffer the medical anxiety that is so common among those with chronic illness. On top of that, we had to stop by the hospital lab before her appointment so she could drop off a 24 hour urine sample, which was in a large and very full jug by her feet.
In the midst of the curvy, narrow portion of the freeway, with cement barriers on either side due to road construction, my fidgeting passenger gasped as something landed with a thug at her feet. Suddenly my dashboard and the interior of my windshield were covered with little droplets of liquid. I froze, stunned and speechless with nowhere to pull over as I watched the droplets start to run down. My friend saw the stunned look on my face and immediately realized what I was thinking, that the droplets now running down the inside of my windshield had come from the jug of urine. “Oh... no, no”, she said as she started to laugh, “I just dropped my water bottle.” In that moment we both started laughing uncontrollably. The situation was downright hilarious! We laughed so hard that we both teared up with laughter, and kept laughing on and off the rest of the drive. As we continued to laugh, all of the stress we had been feeling disappeared and it reset the tone for the rest of that day. Even the tension and pain in my shoulders eased up. As the day wore on we continued to have bouts of giggles, finding humor in things that would have previously caused us frustration. What usually would have been a stressful and physically exhausting day of doctor appointments and testing instead turned into a day that we both still laugh about years later.
You see, all that laughter caused our brains to be flooded with the amazing, wonderful, natural mood-lifting neurohormones, dopamine and endorphins. So if you find yourself being sucked into that downward spiral of stress or depression, consider skipping the pity party and enjoying a good laugh instead. Whether you prefer watching something funny on television, sharing some laughs with a friend, or any number of other laugh-inducing options, fight back with a good laugh and enjoy the rush that your own body’s internal pharmacy provides risk free and at no cost.
If you are finding it difficult to feel happiness, as so many do, because depression is suppressing your brain’s pleasure-enhancing neurochemicals, I recommend finding a public venue where you will be surrounded by others who are laughing. Studies have even proven that laughter is contagious. That helps by giving your brain permission to be happy and enjoy a good laugh, because laughter loves company too.
Of course, if you are currently taking antidepressants and are considering reducing your use, please seek medical assistance. Weaning off of medications comes with it’s own significant risks and should only be done with a doctor’s knowledge and supervision. And remember, even those currently taking antidepressants can still enjoy the benefits of a good laugh.