Three Diabetes Therapies: Hugs, Smiles, and Laughter

Thinking about diabetes and its complications can be depressing. Failure to stick to a constant regimen of exercise and the recommended diet for Type 2 diabetes adds another layer of stress.

Indeed, doctors say that people with diabetes and other chronic conditions are more likely to fight depression. I have found this to be true.


Life can be frustrating, especially when things happen to us that are beyond our control. This also adds to our stress, and chronic stress is a powerful enemy of physical, mental, and emotional health.

The cortisol that is released when we are under stress is supposed to help temporarily by raising blood sugar and blood pressure, getting us ready to fight or run away. But if our bodies are subjected to chronic stress, this leads to serious health problems like heart attacks and stroke, obesity, eating disorders, and depression.

What do we do? Here are three simple therapies that have been proven to help ease stress and lower blood pressure, even make blood sugar easier to control. They are easy to do and cost you nothing.

The first is hugs, which use the power of touch. Hug therapy is so popular that you can find books and even therapy groups for it. Hugging has demonstrated its ability to lower cortisol and calm stress. The release of oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddle hormone, includes anti-inflammatory properties that improve healing time, lower pain levels, and reduce insulin resistance.

If you cannot find someone to hug, simply petting a dog or cat has the same effect. One thing about hugs though — if a stranger or someone you do not trust gives you a hug, chances are your stress levels will rise.

So hug someone you trust, give and get a neck rub, or spend some time with your pets. Oxytocin will lower your stress and your cortisol levels. I love spending time with children. They are very hands on, and I always feel better when I’m caring for them.

The mention of children brings me to the next therapy — smiling. One psychologist tried this experiment: He suggested to people that they hold a pen in their teeth. This forced them to smile whether they wanted to or not.

The results were pretty amazing — the subjects found cartoons funnier than when they were frowning. Anxiety is lessened when you smile. A smile tells your brain you are happy, even when you do not feel that way at the moment. It lifts your mood. Some say it works better than Prozac (fluoxetine, a type of depression and anxiety medication).

The simple change in your perceptions when you smile can reduce stress, which reduces pain and lowers blood pressure. It also affects how the people around you react to you. It makes them respond in positive ways, and that is a good thing, since depression tends to push others away.

Smiling also boosts your immune responses because you are more relaxed. Endorphins that are released when you smile are natural pain relievers. Serotonin, another helpful hormone produced when you smile, is associated with feeling good. It is converted into melatonin at night, helping you sleep.

The third therapy is laughter, and the best way I know to add some to your life is to spend time with children. Babies start laughing at a few months. Small children do it often. Grandchildren constantly give me reasons to laugh.

Pets can do this for you too. There are as many funny videos about pets as children on Facebook and YouTube. Psychologists will tell you that pets are good for mental and physical health. I have a friend who gets hours of laughter out of feeding the squirrels in her yard and watching their antics.

If you have a hard time finding something to laugh about, start by smiling more. Put a pencil in your teeth. Then think about all the things you are grateful for. Counting your blessings will make your pain and other physical and emotional burdens lighter.

Listen to others laughing. Go where the laughter is. Watch children and animals play. Join in a silly board game. Laugh at yourself sometimes.

“A merry heart is good medicine.” It boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, helps you relax, and relieves pain, or at least helps you ignore it for a while. It has even been shown to help prevent heart disease.

Cancer patients use laughter therapy to help them fight. Read some of their stories about how laughter has helped them.

These three diabetes therapies — hugs, smiles, and laughter — are available to you anytime. Try one or all three. See if they help.

Living with diabetes is a long road. It can take you to scary, difficult, and painful places, but it also teaches valuable lessons. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to hear what Emily Coles has learned from her 37 years with Type 1 diabetes.