How many times have we all been told that laughter is the best medicine? Many psychologists and counselors still preach laughter as the best medicine, especially for STRESS. This has NEVER been truer than now!! In the past few weeks this nation has experienced the mass shooting of innocent children in Connecticut, the murder of three law enforcement rookies in three days and multiple shootings in which our law enforcement heroes have been seriously injured.

As a stress coach for law enforcement, emergency services personnel and our military; I have never been more concerned about the “Garbage Can” effect on our most valuable resources. In my research, I read an article about a Laughter Clinic Project that discussed the many positive aspects to laughter and the ways it reduces negative side effects to stress.

The term “laughter medicine” is used as a playful metaphor for exploring central themes such as “The Wisdom of Happiness, The Psychology of Joy, Releasing the Fun Child, Happiness is a Way of Traveling, The Therapeutic Power of Play, The Joy of Stress, Living Wonder-fully and, of course, Laughter is the best medicine”. There is an old saying, “Your day goes the way the corners of your mouth turn”! This has been proven true.

Just ask any of our law enforcement and military warriors who have used all forms of practical jokes leading to laughter, as a way of relieving stress and lightening the moment. Youtube has numerous videos showing employees at Tampa Police Dept and Midshipmen at the Naval Academy dancing to everything from Psy’s “Gangnam Style” to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” just to name a few.

Medical research has measured extensively the movements we make whenever we smile and laugh, not just on our face, but also through our entire body. The research shows that it is possible for all 400 muscles of the body to move during laughter. When we laugh we release a wave of chemicals through the body including the endorphin hormone, which is also released during healthy exercise. Endorphins (of morphine) are the body’s natural pain-relaxant- they stimulate feelings of well being, joy and “high”.

The most exciting medical research on laughter is in the field of “psycho-neuroimmunology”, which looks at the effect of the mind on the brain and on the immune system. This research shows that whereas suppressed anger or feelings of intense hatred or frustration, for instance, disturbs the natural, healthy functioning of the immune system, laughter, joy and happiness have been found to help boost the immune system. I often lecture on the fact that the brain controls the body BUT how the body feels (tired, hungry, vitamin deprived etc) impacts the way the brain thinks. Laughter deals with the brain and the body.

A prescription for laughter is a double-edged sword for law enforcement.  What is there to laugh about in law enforcement?   LEOs have often been accused of having very sick senses of humor. I heard about a supervisor who arrived at the scene of a car accident where the driver had been decapitated. When the supervisor arrived he had several very young, inexperienced officers already there. They were all standing around looking at this very horrific scene, each looking at the other, wondering who would be the first to get sick, pass out etc.

The supervisor approached the young officers, looked at the decapitated body and remarked “son, it really wasn’t worth losing your head over”. The young officers each snickered, some even laughed. Was this appropriate or inappropriate humor?

The public would certainly say, especially in the politically correct environment we all live in, that this was inappropriate and unnecessary. On the other hand, I would like to commend this supervisor for taking care of his officers. What he did was to provide a medium in which his officers could respond to a very horrific situation, one that most of us would shutter at the possibility of ever having to witness, thus allowing these young officers to disassociate. Anyone who knows anything about law enforcement knows that disassociation is one of the most influential coping techniques to an officer’s survival

The same people who would say this form of humor is morbid would also LEOs as too serious, cold and unfriendly, controlling and oft times rude. I would like to ask those same people, what is there for police officers to smile about? This is a profession that involves pain, suffering, loss, destruction, death, anger, injury, revenge, criticism, sadness, addiction, abuse and that is just a few of the negative descriptors of what they see and experience.

When was the last time a police officer was dispatched to a call to celebrate the birth of a stranger’s child or someone’s promotion?  The public only calls for law enforcement assistance when they are experiencing a problem, whether real or perceived. Rather that the phrase “Protect and Serve” on patrol cars, a more accurate job description would be “Problem Solvers”. This is where the prescription for laughter becomes a double edged sword. The public wants officers to “lighten up,” but keep it tasteful.

Laughter is great medicine but for law enforcement it must be done oft times very discreetly. Don’t wait for happiness to happen, make it happen! When was the last time you went out to play? Indulge yourself, invest in yourself, give yourself something to smile about and ALWAYS include your family.

Remember the old adage, “He/She who laughs, LASTS!” And when all else fails, “ when you are having a bad day and it seems like people are trying to tick you off, remember…it takes 42 muscles to frown, 400 muscles to laugh and only 4 muscles to pull the trigger on a decent sniper rifle!”  Your sense of humor is contagious.

Susan Lewis Simons, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., D.A.A.E.T.S is the President: Under the Shield, Inc; SLS & Associates.  She is one of the nation’s leading experts in stress management for public safety/emergency services, military and aviation. She provides training for various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies focusing on stress management, critical incident response/reactions, and the impact of this lifestyle on the family. She has provided training for the USAF Europe, served as a Consulting Clinician with the NYPD post 9/11.  She serves as a consultant to the U S Air Force 56th Security Forces Squadron Luke AFB, AZ. Susan has been a guest instructor for many prestigious international and domestic organizations, including the FBI, various FBINAA groups, International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, SWAT Roundup and the International Aviation Security Academy and Conference. Susan is a Train the Trainer for the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.  Lt Col. Dave Grossman described her as a “national treasure and a fellow warrior-healer who he is proud and honored to call a friend and a colleague”.