Exercise, sleep, diet and stress-management are key for your mental and emotional health. But there’s a lesser known way you can boost your health (plus a whole lot of other things). In these uncertain times, laughing yourself silly may just be a smart thing to do.

The science of laughter—though still preliminary—suggests that it has benefits for our health and psychological well-being.

Here are just five examples from this emerging research:

1. It can support your physical health

A review of the existing research suggests that humor and laughter may boost immune function.

Another study found that even just anticipating a funny event decreases potentially detrimental stress-related hormones. In another study, laughter was found to lower stress and inflammation and increase good cholesterol.

2. It's a stress reliever

Laughter is wonderful for stress relief.

A review of research on laughter therapies suggests they can reduce anxiety, depression and perceived stress.

Laughter makes you feel happier and releases endorphins in the brain, and puts you in a better mood, several studies have shown. Even a short period of laughter per day can reduce stress hormone levels (cortisol).

Ever had nervous laughter in an awkward or difficult situation? That’s because laughter may help you regulate your emotions in the face of challenge, one study suggests.

3. It can improve your memory

When we are trying to learn something new, we’re usually pretty serious but research shows that a good laugh while learning new material will help you engage with it more and learn faster, even in toddlers. Humor can facilitate learning, even in online courses.

4. It can strengthen your relationships

Research shows that laughter makes you more open to new people and helps you build and strengthen relationships.

A recent study confirms that humor and playfulness are highly valued traits in potential romantic partners. Humor is important in romantic attraction.

5. It can make your community happier, too

Research has shown that happiness is contagious. You being happier impacts 3 degrees of separation around you (your child’s friends’ mom is happier if you are happy).

And laughter too is contagious, at least on the level of the brain, according to research by Sophie Scott.

All this to say: Even if laughter feels hard to come by or guilt-inducing during these difficult times, it's an incredible skill in your self-care toolkit. Don't be afraid to turn to it and know it'll help you be stronger during this time.

A version of this article originally appeared on on emmaseppala.com


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