Managing Stress in Extraordinary Times: How About a Dose of Laughter?

 

Week Four. How is it going for you? In the past week I have completely forgotten to do a task I volunteered for because I got confused about what day of the week it was. I signed up for online Pilates classes, then got a little agitated when I was not getting the emails with the class schedule. When I followed up, the genuinely nice lady that owns the Pilates studio advised that I was not getting the emails because I misspelled my own email address on the sign-up form. I dropped a spoon down the disposal which I discovered when I turned it on and it made a really bad noise.  Those are the memorable mistakes. There are more, I am sure.

How have I responded? I watched a YouTube video of dogs chasing their tails, another of a baby laughing and dancing along to the Jonas Brothers, and a video of cats and dogs leaping over toilet paper fences.

The adage that laughter is the best medicine is true.

Stress Awareness Month is nearly over, but the stress is not. Wherever you are living, we are all facing the same questions and same concerns.  And, like Covid 19, the stress is not going away.  Over the last month we’ve tried to give you some tools for self-care to use to manage the stress.  Exercise, meditation and music each have a place in stress management and self-care.  A few minutes each day can make a big difference.  Most important, don’t let self-care become something that creates additional stress.  And, as often as possible, it’s good to laugh at ourselves and the things that don’t go exactly as planned.  Like exercise or meditation, research shows that 20 minutes of laughter each day can be transformative.

Laughter benefits our physical and mental health, and it strengthens our social bonds.  No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic has noted that laughter can have both short- and long-term health benefits. The short terms benefits include stimulating your organs, increasing the endorphins in your brain, activating, and relieving your stress response and soothing tension. Long-term, laughter may improve your immune system, help relieve pain, increase your sense of personal satisfaction by helping you cope with difficult situations and improve your mood.[i]   In addition, laughing may help you lose weight!  It’s no substitute for exercise, but 10 – 15 minutes of laughter burns 40 calories!  An Oreo has about 53 calories.  Laugh for 20 minutes and you’ve worked off that cookie!  (Not a particularly good weight loss plan, but I bet you are smiling!)

Laughter is also an important part of the social glue that holds us together.  We’ve all experienced a stressful situation that is lightened by sharing a laugh. Shared laughter helps bring a group closer together.  Whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, remembering funny incidents and sharing a laugh reminds us of what we have in common.  It is very hard to be angry or hold a grudge when you can share a laugh.

The medical benefits of laughter led to the development of a practice called laughter yoga.  Dr. Madan Kataria developed and popularized the practice in 1995.  He began the practice with a few friends and the movement has grown to hundreds of thousands of practitioners and teachers in countries throughout the world. Laughter yoga does not involve poses. Laughter yoga does not require you to watch funny videos, or even be happy. Laughter yoga induces laughter and then lets it take over and become natural. Laughter yoga teaches that, even when you do not feel like laughing, you can laugh, and soon what was “fake” becomes real. Your body does not know whether you are laughing spontaneously in response to something funny or just faking it and you reap the same benefits. Why is it called yoga? Because, like other forms of yoga, laughter yoga involves breathwork (pranayama) to encourage deep inhalations and exhalations.  Laughter yoga clubs can be found throughout the country, and right now there are multiple laughter yoga teachers providing online opportunities. A few resources are listed below.

If you are interested in learning more, you can check out the website http://www.laughteryogausa.com.  In addition to providing links to phone in laughter yoga, they have a list of beginner tips, including: Make a choice to laugh and make a decision to be playful and to have fun; leave your “serious mind” behind and bring a happy face with you;  allow it – laughter is inside of us, it is our true nature.   They also recommend experimenting with different kinds of laughs – big belly laughs or small giggles, for example.

 As hard as it can be sometimes, developing the ability to laugh in the face of adversity and perhaps most importantly, to laugh at yourself, is a valuable life skill. Whether you are watching dogs chasing their tales or The Three Stooges, reading dad jokes or listening to your child tell the same knock knock joke you told your parents, find some laughter today.  It truly is the best medicine.

 

Resources:

 

Laughter Yoga resources:

https://www.laughteryogausa.org/   A non-profit with resources about laughter yoga, including a resource to help you find a local laughter yoga club.

http://www.laughteryogausa.com  The for-profit site for Gaga and Kevin Barnes.  They offer phone in laughter yoga sessions.  Find more information on the website.

https://laughteryogawithalexa.com/  Alexa is located near Philadelphia and offers Zoom laughter yoga classes

 

The best dad jokes:

There are a lot of resources for dad jokes online, and you will find the jokes tend to repeat.  A couple of favorite sites are:

https://www.southernliving.com/culture/best-dad-jokes

https://www.beano.com/posts/dad-jokes

 

And when in doubt, laughing babies are always good!

 

[i] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456


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