A Comedian’s Take on Laughter, Stress and Heart Health

Before Kay Frances spoke at the 2015 Toledo Go Red For Women Luncheon this past November, people weren’t sure what to expect.Kay Frances, MBA HEAD SHOT

It’s not every day that a stand-up comedian and motivational humorist takes the stage after doctors and survivors of heart conditions talk about the importance of heart health. But as Kay shared her story, poked fun at famous songs throughout the decades and even broke into the “Nae Nae,” a crowd of women laughed, clapped and seriously considered the impact stress has on their physical health.

We caught up with Kay after the luncheon for more of her thought-provoking and smile-inducing wisdom.

HealthConnect: Is laughter really the best medicine?

Kay: I don’t think we should take this literally, because sometimes what we really need is a good antibiotic and a double shot of Demerol.

The science is mixed on the health benefits of laughter, but what is generally agreed-upon are studies that have shown that laughter increases blood flow and oxygen levels, boosts levels of immune cells and lowers blood sugar levels. Also, I like to tie laughter in with any “good” feeling such as optimism and light-heartedness.

There is solid science behind optimism and health benefits. The American Heart Association did an exhaustive study and found that—all other things being equal–optimistic people had better heart health, a stronger immune system and a decreased risk of stroke. We can’t laugh our days away, but we can certainly maintain an inner oasis that will create a more healthful outlook.

HC: Why are Americans so stressed?

Kay: We wear our stress like a badge of honor. It makes us feel busy, important and in-demand. It’s almost as though we are in competition with our peers to see how little sleep we can get by on and how packed our schedules are. It’s a really bad habit that we’ve gotten into as a nation. It’s easy to see why up to 85% of diseases and illnesses are stress related.

“We wear our stress like a badge of honor. It makes us feel busy, important and in-demand.”

I use humor to reframe a situation. I DO believe in “keeping it real.” You can’t simply go through life laughing everything off. Being human and living a full life means having a full range of emotions. But, I think more “negative” emotions should be like brief visitors. See what they are trying to teach us and don’t let them move in as full-time residents. Make serenity our default position; get back to it as quickly as possible. We need to monitor our choices.

HC: How do we monitor our choices?

Kay: It takes vigilance. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to decide—really decide—that we want to live a long and healthy life. Every decision we make should support that. Sometimes we think it’s “selfish” to take care of ourselves, but the truth is that we can’t pour from an empty vessel. Being healthy is the greatest gift we can give our loved ones. We have many choices throughout the day as to how we are going to view any given situation. If our choice is to laugh or cry, why not laugh?

HC: What’s your go-to practice when you need a laugh?

Kay: I do a quick check-in on my Facebook page. Although I have hundreds of “friends,” I only follow people that are engaging and upbeat. Even a picture of a batch of puppies can help turn my mood around.

Kay Frances is known as “America’s Funniest Stressbuster.” She gives humorous keynote presentations and stress management workshops all over the United States. She is the author of “The Funny Thing about Stress; A Seriously Humorous Guide to a Happier Life.” To order the book or find out more about Kay, visit her website at www.KayFrances.com

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