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Form your lips into a smile and you’ll feel better – even faking it helps. With mental health concerns at crisis levels during the coronavirus pandemic, laughter may be part of the path to a better mood.

WGN’s Medical Watch team first met Tanaz Bambood and her “laughter yoga” in 2006.

“I found it very goofy at that time what are they up to just laughing and enjoying without jokes?” she said.

She was skeptical at first. But she stuck with it, learning to lead the exercises from an instructor in India.

“I worked at it and sometimes people wouldn’t turn up and I started it free because people didn’t want to come pay for it,” she said. “They would laugh at it and say, ‘We laugh all the time!’ This laughter is for your health not entertainment.”

Bambood took up the practice to improve her mental health after going through what she calls a dark period in her life back in 2004.

“I started having sleepless nights and I was scared,” she said. “And I didn’t want to share it also because of the stigma I kept it to myself. …  The main thing was I had forgotten to laugh. And when I lost the laughter it was like I lost my soul and I wanted to laugh again but nothing helped me.”

15 years later, she’s still laughing. And her doctor Dr. Suhayl Nasr says, the results are nothing to laugh at.

“After she started doing laughter yoga, she went more than ten years without any symptoms, zero,” Nasr said.

For patients with bipolar disorder, frequent episodes of depression are common – about six times a year.

“You have to work very hard with bipolar,” Bambood said. “It is like going to a war.”

Medications and therapy have played a critical role in her treatment, as has ECT — electroconvulsive therapy, a controlled electric current to the brain. But all the laughs have a benefit.

“It does help with immunity. It does help with lowering blood pressure. And it does help with depression. So we know there is evidence now,” Nasr said. “We know that even faking a smile by putting pen in your mouth can fool your brain into thinking you are laughing and can help you with your depression.”

“Research has found the endorphins, beautiful happy chemicals the hormones, start boosting up and cortisol levels go down,” Bambood said. “But you have to practice on a daily basis.”

She’s still teaching the technique — mostly on Zoom these days — and encouraging others to join the movement.

“As a child we laughed without knowing how to talk or walk,” she said. “We laugh 18 times or less whereas a child we laugh 300 times a day. … Whatever we are going thru we need to laugh.”