Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!

“The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” — Mark Twain, novelist and writer

Take a moment to think about what you were doing the last time you laughed. Were you with someone or by yourself? Were you reading or watching something humorous, or simply remembering something that happened in the past? And were you already feeling happy when you laughed…or did the act of laughing make you feel happy?

Laughter is a peculiar and remarkable phenomenon of human behavior, and scientific research has shown that it can be beneficial for physical and mental health. For example, several studies have found that laughter can reduce feelings of distress, improve functioning of the immune system, and even help prevent heart disease.

Additionally, psychologists know that laughter is an effective coping mechanism for countering negative thoughts and emotions. According to Tom Kixmiller, a therapist and counselor at our Avon office:

“One of the best ways to heal the body in general is physical activity, and if you’ve ever belly laughed, it can leave you tired. Physical activity and laughter burn off stress and re-balance the body chemistry.

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Tom Kixmiller, LMHC

But how can this help someone who is feeling anxious, upset or depressed? After all, we often think of laughter as something people do when they’re already feeling happy, not when they’re sad. While it’s true that we’re more disposed to laugh when we’re in a good mood, the physical act of laughing can also cause us to feel happy.

Laughter and the Facial Feedback Hypothesis

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When we think about emotion, it’s easy to assume that physiological changes occur in our body as a result of the emotion we’re feeling. When we’re stressed, we take quicker breaths and our heart beats faster. When we’re sad, we feel lethargic and wear a frown on our face. And when we’re happy, we smile and laugh.

However, our physiological state can also be the cause of our emotions. This is why controlling our breathing can calm us down when we’re feeling overwhelmed, and it’s why the 19th-century psychologist William James famously concluded, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy—we’re happy because we laugh.” Tom elaborates:

“Your brain is constantly monitoring your body, which is why dialectical behavior therapy uses the premise of the ‘half-smile.’ If you make yourself smile, it can shift your mood. It isn’t going to fix everything, but it starts to move you in the right direction. Some studies have shown that even forced smiling or forced laughter can have a positive effect.”

Therefore, laughing can make us feel happy even if we weren’t before. Of course, it can be hard to find the motivation to make ourselves laugh if we’re struggling with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety. This is where humor and comedy can help.

Introducing Mental Health America’s “Laughing for the Health of It” Comedy Show!

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Tammi Jessup is the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Hendricks County (MHAHC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting mental wellness in the community. The organization serves people who have mental health conditions through a combination of school-based and adult education programs, support groups, individual advocacy, and initiatives like its food pantry and holiday gift drive.

When facilitating a mental health support group, Tammi leverages the power of laughter whenever she can. “We talk about whatever is going on in each person’s life, whether they’ve had a good week or a bad week. And we laugh, intentionally, as much as possible. If you have your group of people together and you can get them to laugh about something, it has all those positive impacts on the body and mind.”

As part of its mission to promote mental health, MHAHC hosts an annual event called “Laughing for the Health of It.” One part speaker dinner and one part comedy show, “Laughing for the Health of It” aims to remind people that life can be joyful even with a mental health condition. Tammi explains:

“One in four people is going to have a mental health condition at some point in their lives. We want to help those people and their families lead their best and healthiest lives, and we feel like laughter is an important component of that. We want to help people realize that even when they have a mental health condition, they can still laugh and have a good time.”

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Tammi Jessup, Executive Director of MHAHC

7th Annual “Laughing for the Health of It” Dinner and Comedy Show

Sponsored by: Cummins Behavioral Health Systems and Hendricks Regional Heath

When: September 21st, 5:30 p.m.–10:00 p.m.

Where: Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds & Conference Complex, North and South Halls

Featuring:

Comedian Brent Terhune, writer for the Bob & Tom Show

Jefferson Award Winner Nikki Ford

Live music by local band “No Criminal Record”

Catered dinner and cash bar

Silent auction, photo booth, and games & activities

To purchase tickets, click the button below or call the MHAHC office at (317) 272-0027

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Supplement Your Journaling Routine with These Easy Therapeutic Exercises

In our last post, we spoke with Cummins therapist Mindy Frazee about the mental health benefits of keeping a journal. Studies have shown that journaling can have a wide range of physical and mental heath effects, from lowered heart rate to less distress and negative emotions. Although we covered a lot of the basics last time, there’s still so much more that can be said about journaling!

“Journaling helps us think in different ways,” Mindy says. “It aids in stress reduction, emotion regulation, increased awareness, but it also impacts and touches different parts of our brains, which is really fascinating.”

To help our readers supplement their journaling routine, we asked Mindy about her favorite ways to use journaling in a therapy setting. Here are a few exercises and prompts you can try for yourself!

Therapist Mindy Frazee on Her Favorite Journaling Exercises

Mindy Frazee considers herself a Rogerian, and as such, she doesn't believe in one-size-fits-all journaling therapy. "There's no manualized treatment for Carl Rogers, and I love that. So, for me, it's about whoever is sitting across from me. It's really tailored to what would work for that person," she says.

Self-Affirmation Journaling

“Some people that come into my office have very low self-evaluation and self-esteem, for a variety of reasons. One of the things I’ll do is tell them, ‘Write down everything you like about yourself.’

That’s really uncomfortable for people. Many of us don’t like to talk about ourselves. We’re in the Midwest; it’s not what we do. But on top of that, we may have been told negative things about ourselves. This exercise challenges those ideas. Then, if we read what we wrote out loud, it helps us accept those good things about ourselves. We think, ‘I wrote it about myself, I read it out loud, and then this person sitting across from me who’s completely unbiased accepts this about me. I guess I can accept that about me, too.’ “

Reframing Traumatic Experiences

“Usually in trauma work, I encourage the person to read their own words out loud in our sessions. And when they’re reading what they’ve written about a traumatic experience, I’ll pause them and ask, ‘What do you think about that experience right now? What is it like now, today, in this moment, to be saying these things?’

What was present then is often what trauma survivors fixate on. ‘I was so angry, I was so scared, I was these things.’ But as a therapist, I encourage them to think about what’s happening today, in this moment. This helps them be more present and stop living in the past, which is really pivotal and impactful in trauma work. They realize it’s OK to feel the way they did and that they’re not in that place anymore.”

Experimenting with Format

“Some people just don’t want to sit down and write, to be honest. Not everybody is going to say, ‘Dear diary, today…’ So, I try to meet those people where they’re comfortable. They can journal with logs or bullet points. They can write poetry and prose. It’s whatever makes sense for that person in their mind.

Another idea that’s really fascinating is photography as a way of journaling. Most people have some type of a phone, so I might ask them to capture pictures, but in a very focused way—with a specific quest, kind of. I’ll say, ‘Define this concept using photos throughout your day, and then bring them in and we’ll discuss them.’ “

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We’d like to thank Mindy Frazee for sharing these exercises, which can be used in both clinical and personal settings. But you needn’t stop here! There are countless ways to express yourself through journaling—the only wrong way is a way that doesn’t feel right to you!

What are your favorite ways to journal?

If you’d like to read more about mental health and wellness strategies, check out some of our other posts below!

Wellness: What It Is and How to Achieve It
Stress Can Be Good For You (as in this picture of a woman doing her homework)
Remember This Next Time You're Feeling Stressed

Journaling: A Simple Way to Manage Stress, Anxiety and Depression

“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent.”  — Susan Sontag, essayist, filmmaker and activist

Would you believe that spending a few minutes each day with a pen and paper can be highly beneficial for your mental health?

Journaling, which you might also call keeping a diary, is the practice of regularly recording your thoughts, feelings and life events. It’s a great way to get difficult thoughts and emotions “out of your head” and into a private, judgment-free space. In fact, psychologists have known for many years that journaling can work wonders for mental health.

In one influential paper on the topic, psychologist James Pennebaker found that people who participated in journaling exercises later reported less distress, depression and negative emotions. Amazingly, some people even experienced improvements in their physical health and behavior. In a few studies, people who journaled went on to earn higher grades in school or find a new job more quickly after being laid off from work.

So, how does journaling work in a clinical setting, and how does the exercise translate to mental health benefits? We spoke with therapist Melinda (“Mindy”) Frazee to find out.

Mindy Frazee on Journaling for Mental Health

Mindy Frazee is an outpatient therapist at our Crawfordsville office, where she finds journaling to be an invaluable tool in her work with clients. “It can aid in emotion regulation and increasing awareness. I do a lot of mindfulness-based work with clients, and it can help them become more aware, more present, more tuned-in to what’s happening to them internally instead of reacting to what’s happening externally,” she says.

According to Mindy, journaling can be an effective therapeutic exercise for just about anyone. However, she finds it particularly useful for people who have experienced trauma. In her therapy sessions, Mindy often asks clients to read aloud portions of what they have written in their journals, and then they discuss topics that either person thinks is important.

Mindy says that journaling forces us to confront our thoughts and feelings head-on rather than avoid them. Although this process can be uncomfortable at first, it’s often a crucial step on the journey toward self-discovery or psychological healing:

“When people first come to work with me, especially when they’ve experienced trauma, I compare it to looking down a very long hallway with a lot of doors shut. It’s scary and dark, and we don’t like to go down there. But in my office, we go down there. It’s very disorganized in that area of our minds, and journaling can help us start to organize it. We revisit the traumatic event, we look at it in a safe way, and we make a different sense of it.”

How to Start Your Own Journaling Routine

Keeping a journal is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your mental health. All you need to do is pick up a pen and start writing. You can write about anything you want, from the events of your day to something that has made you happy, sad, excited or nervous. If you keep up the routine long enough, you’ll start to know yourself better and work your way through problems that once seemed too difficult to approach.

Your journaling exercise will be most effective if you can make it a regular part of your day. “My recommendation is to be very intentional about when you’re going to journal,” Mindy says. “Sit down and walk through your schedule. When do you have 20 minutes where no one is interrupting you, you’re relaxed, and you’re able to just sit, think and write?”

Here are some other tips and suggestions to consider:

  • If at all possible, try to write in your journal every day. Be strict with yourself about maintaining your schedule.
  • Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about things like sentence structure, grammar and spelling.
  • Don’t censor yourself or worry about what other people might think. Your journal is for your eyes only.
  • If you don’t know what to write about, try choosing weekly or monthly themes. Examples could include “joy,” “anger,” “memories” or “aspirations.”
  • Instead of keeping a written journal, you could also record audio or video logs. Any format that feels right to you is fine.

Journaling is one of the many client-specific behavioral treatments used by our therapists at Cummins BHS. While journaling is useful in clinical care settings, it can also be practiced outside of therapy for your general mental and emotional well-being.

We hope this post inspires you to start journaling for your own mental health! 

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For more on wellness and simple exercises for improving mental health, give these other posts a read!

Wellness: What It Is and How to Achieve It
Calm Down Quick with This Simple Trick: Extended Exhale

Building Connected, Healthy Communities: National Night Out 2019

Tuesday, August 6th is National Night Out!

The website for National Night Out—an initiative of the National Association of Town Watch—includes a quote from former Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that nicely sums up what the organization is all about:

“The best way to build a safer community is to know your neighbors and your surroundings. National Night Out triumphs over a culture that isolates us from each other and allows us to rediscover our own communities.”

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United States Permanent Representative to NATO and former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Celebrated in most places on the first Tuesday in August, National Night Out (or NNO) is an annual event with the goal of creating safer, tighter-knit communities. One way this is done is by strengthening relationships between community members and law enforcement. To this end, local police departments have a large presence at each event. Officers put a positive face on law enforcement by interacting with community members, and they also get residents involved in programs like neighborhood watch, drug prevention, and other anti-crime efforts.

However, NNO is also about strengthening ties between everyone in the community. As Senator Hutchison said, the best way to build safe communities is to know your neighbors! That’s why Cummins BHS is proud to be participating in this year’s National Night Out celebrations!

Recapping Montgomery County’s NNO Events with Jeremy Haire

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Jeremy Haire, LMHC, is a Youth and Family Therapist at our Montgomery County location in Crawforsdville, IN.

In Montgomery County, National Night Out was celebrated a week early on Tuesday, July 30th. The event was held at Milligan Park in Crawfordsville, IN and hosted by several organizations including the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau and Drug Free Montgomery County. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Police Department and Fire Department were all present to interact with the public. Additionally, there were many fun activities for children and families to participate in, such as an obstacle course, a bounce house, face painting, caricatures, and a special “Silly Safari” show.

Two of our staff were also there to speak with attendees about Cummins’ services and answer their behavioral health questions. Jeremy Haire, LMHC and Youth & Family Therapist, headed the booth at the event. “We had a display for doing deep breathing and a couple of activities to get kids engaged, and while they were playing, the parents might ask us about our services. It was a great time to get information to community members who maybe hadn’t heard of us or didn’t know exactly what we do,” Jeremy says.

In addition to letting people know about the health services available to them, Jeremy says the event was a good opportunity to connect with other local organizations:

“It’s nice to be able to meet some of our community partners and discover how they can help people who are currently in our services. For example, we met an organization that provides hygiene products and household items for adults and families. That was a resource we weren’t aware of. Having relationships like that will help us connect folks who are in need with the appropriate resources.”

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A photo of the deep breathing board that was displayed at Cummins' booth. The two techniques listed, "bubble breathing" and "balloon breathing," presented healthy breathing exercises in a way that was engaging for children.

Attending National Night Out is a wonderful way to get involved with your community and discover the health and wellness resources that are available to you. We encourage all our readers to check with their local civic organizations to see if National Night Out is being celebrated in their town!

Cummins BHS will be in attendence at the NNO event for Putnam County. Come out to see us Tuesday, August 6th from 5–8 p.m. at Robe Ann Park (Splash Park) in Greencastle!

If you enjoyed this post on National Night Out, you might also like our article featuring Police Officer Chase Lyday and the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition!

Officer Chase Lyday
How One Indianapolis Police Officer Is Fighting Teenage Substance Abuse