From the Archives: Summer 2004 Lupus Now magazine
GOOD HUMOR: How laughing helps us cope with lupus
by Maureen Pratt
We’d all love to laugh -- loud and long -- like Mary Poppins’ Uncle Albert. Although lupus is not the most obvious giggle-inducer in the world, if you can find room for some comedy in your life, it’s likely to benefit you -- and your lupus.
Colin Stokol, M.D., a neurologist and psychiatrist at Cedars–Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, is a big fan of humor. “First, there is a feeling of belonging to a community when a patient finds humor with others,” he notes. “Second, the action of deep laughter has a physical benefit: When you laugh, you exercise your respiratory muscles, spine, upper body and face. And finally, there is a belief among medical professionals that laughter prompts the body to release endorphins, which are hormones that create a sense of well-being.”
People find different ways to get those endorphins going, from playing practical jokes to watching an old “Three Stooges” episode. Wes Daniel of Midwest City, OK, was diagnosed with lupus in 1991. When he was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy, a good chuckle was his frontline defense against the disease.
“My sense of humor is probably what got me through the bad stage,” remembers Daniel. “Once when I was going down for a treatment, I got one of the male nurses to give me an IV pump with a dress and two inflated balloons. I drove it up and down the hall of the hospital and called it my girlfriend.”
Indeed, humor appears to play a powerful role in coping with chronic illness. “There have been about 20 solid scientific studies showing humor and laughter can increase tolerance to or reduce the feeling of pain in people with cancer and other ailments,” says developmental psychologist Paul McGhee, Ph.D., of Wilmington, DE.
For Ferranté Johnson of Central, SC, humor was a natural way of dealing with his mother’s death from lupus in 1992. Now he and his brother, Antonio, run “Laughs for Lupus,” which organizes comedy-club nights to raise awareness and funds for the Lupus Foundation of America and for lupus research at Medical University of South Carolina.
In addition to making people happy, humor helps people with lupus face their day-to-day challenges. “A lot of patients are very heroic and maintain a wonderful spirit,” notes rheumatologist Gary Gilkeson, M.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “Having a positive attitude makes all the difference in the world.”
For the latest tips and resources on health-related humor, visit the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor at www.aath.org; 602-995-1454. For more insight from psychologist Paul McGhee, check out www.laughterremedy.com. And to find out more about “Laughs for Lupus,” go to www.laughsforlupus.org; 864-639-9678.