I’ve become quite the fan of melodrama musical theater as an entertainment mode. At my favorite stage, actors with great singing voices are accompanied by a pianist as they romp around the stage getting into and out of trouble with the help of the audience’s “Boo’s” and “OOOOs” and enthusiastic “YEAHs.” As they romp, sing and dance acrosss the stage, the laughter around the room is quite contagious. I’m in a good mood for days – and I am smiling right now as I think of it.
So it didn’t really surprise me when I read an article today titled “Laughing Gas Shows Promise to Help Ease The Symptoms Of Depression.” Well, duh! Laughter is good for treating depression. Laughter Yoga has been shown to be quite effective, for instance, because the body doesn’t differentiate between deliberate laughter and laughter from something being funny. And studies show that hospital patients with physical illnesses who watch funny movies get better faster. So, if laughing gas made a person laugh, it stands to reason that could be a positive thing.
I suffered from deep depression with constant unbidden thoughts of suicide for years before I got help and I am not so naive as to believe people can just “snap out of it,” despite my now-understanding that we are born with a joy inside that is ours to claim. When depression is drowning you, it isn’t just that the sun is behind a cloud, it’s like a dark, cold fog surrounds you, clings to you ; it changes your perceptions and sucks up all your energy. I am well aware that “treatment resistant depression” is a very real and deadly threat.
But laughing gas (“HIPPIE CRACK”) can be very dangerous, even lethal, and so it’s not something to fool around with on your own . Please, although it’s legal, you really don’t want to try it except under medical supervision.
Laughing Gas (nitrous oxide – nitrogen and oxygen) is used as an anesthetic – under medical supervision. Dentists and Obstetricians and Opthalmologists and others have used it to good effect to numb pain. It has been used for centuries by kids as a fun game at birthday parties (inhaling the birthday balloons that don’t have that much nitrogen) and adults have also used it as a cheap, legal high.
BUT it’s DANGEROUS, because due to lack of oxygen to the brain using it sometimes leads to brain damage and even death,- either there was too much nitrogen in the mix or the session lasted too long. (Because it gives a quick relief but not a long-lasting one, people who want to get high keep inhaling it.) Another note: like alcohol, the “high” can result in aggression and paranoia instead of euphoria, depending on your genes.
The article in question has a sample size of TWENTY (20) and ONE DAY of follow up. The patients who had gotten laughing gas felt better the next day than the patients who had had a placebo. I would say that a whole lot more work needs to be done to see if there really is any “there” there. Except to know that LAUGHTER WORKS to make you feel better. I feel better after a night of genial melodrama too.
If you are depressed, you can help yourself to cope by accessing the power of laughter in whatever ways work for you. It’s like working out, you can make it part of your schedule.
Brush teeth √ Check.
Laugh. Laugh at anything or nothing at all. √ Check.
When you are depressed, your lizard brain (brain stem) is in charge of your fight or flight responses – and it is programmed to keep you hyper-aware of the negative in life, to the exclusion of everything else. If a tiger is chasing you, that’s quite appropriate. But usually there is no tiger, just the constant drag of self-loathing and the physiological experiences of fear and sadness programmed to keep you from noticing that the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Laughter short-circuits that feedback loop.
I really do understand the value of laughter and having a silly good time. I have learned to tap that innate JOY we all have at our core in my spiritual practice…well, and by laughing and having fun. You too can reprogram yourself to short-circuit the negative feedback loop. LAUGHTER can restore your hope that you CAN access your innate joy again, for longer and more frequent periods of time.
You deserve to be happy. Laugh, be silly, have a good time. It’s an important part of a healthy life. Go for it. With people, without people, with a puppy or a movie or laughter yoga, just laugh some part of every day. It doesn’t solve every problem…but neither does not laughing. And it feels better than crying. Just be careful please about that report the doctors are promoting that laughing gas is your answer – and find other, less dangerous ways to stimulate laughter.