Sandra Abrams | Health.mil
February 04, 2011
Whether it is a giggle, a chuckle or a loud from the belly laugh, laughter is good medicine and plays a vital role in military fitness and readiness. For service members in the field or at home, having a good laugh is a great way to bring about a positive physical and emotional response to one’s overall well being.
Navy Capt. Scott L. Johnston, interim director of the San Diego, Calif.-based Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC) said laughter offers a way to relieve pressure.
"Our military right now is stressed. There are a lot of things going on and we have lots of different competing missions. Every way and anyway that we can deal with combating that stress improves our readiness," Johnston said. "Laughter is a nice easy way to do that."
Johnston, trained as a clinical psychologist, has firsthand knowledge about combat stress. He has been deployed five times since his commission in 1993. Being in the field is a very stressful situation, everyone's adrenal is rushing. He gives some insight into his experiences with Marine infantry units while in Iraq on patrol.
"We had to be on guard and we had our whole body geared up to deal with the enemy. And that is an appropriate response," Johnston said. "But if you keep that going, and keep that energy inside your body for a long time, that can have significant negative effects on a lot of different things including your mental health."
To deal with all that stress response, Johnson said the Marines turned to humor once they were back in a safe environment.
"That was a great positive effect of that release of some of that negative energy," Johnston said. He adds, "I found that laughter also built cohesion within the group. They could share some of those stories and they could connect with those around them."
The study of laughter and its psychological and physiological effects has a scientific name, gelotology, and is an important part of relieving stress. Places such as the Mayo Clinic have done studies on the importance of laughter to a person's mental and physical health.
To illustrate this point, Johnston explains laughter has positive impact on a person's organs, decreases
Comedian Robin Williams performs at the USO holiday tour show at Camp Victory, Iraq on Dec 13, 2010. U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife, Deborah, are hosting the holiday tour features Williams and other celebrities. (DoD photo by MC Spec.1st Class Chad J. McNeeley) blood pressure and can increase one's immune response. Recently, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and his wife, Deborah, hosted the USO holiday tour that stopped at a number of military bases in the Gulf region to entertain or visit service members in military hospitals with several comedians: Robin Williams, Kathleen Madigan and Lewis Black plus other celebrities. The events lifted the spirit of the troops and created an important break from the stress.
To maintain that positive feeling, certain triggers can help as well, suggests Johnston.
"First, a picture of a funny thing you went through, a comic strip that you really enjoy, the daily calendar that has the little jokes on it. Having the triggers to remind you to laugh can be very helpful," Johnston said. "Second, laugh with others. Be around other people you enjoy. It can be very contagious." He also recommends the idea of faking it until you make it. So even if you do not feel like laughing, you do not feel like smiling, making yourself do so is beneficial.
For those service members or families going through a tough time, and not ready to share a smile or share in a joke, it can be difficult. Johnston recommends getting help if someone is in a prolonged stressful situation.