See the funny side

Reducing stress with humour and laughter

How often have you referred to someone who makes you laugh as being ‘a real tonic’? It is a good phrase because laughter can be just that, a tonic. In Britain and America the development of laughter clinics to treat illnesses like depression highlights the fact that laughing is now being taken seriously.

The man who has done more than most to show that laughter can have a healing influence is the American, Norman Cousins. In his compelling book, Anatomy of an Illness (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1979), Cousins relates how he recovered from a potentially fatal illness by collecting all the humorous material he could find – books, films, recordings and so on – and literally laughed himself back to health.

It is a truism to say that one of the healthiest things you can do when feeling stressed is to substitute a negative thought with a humorous one. I am not talking about wry or cynical humour but the kind of humour that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. If you stop to think about it, it is difficult, if not impossible, to remain tense and to laugh at the same time – a good side-splitting laugh, the kind that makes you double over or reduces you to tears is one of nature’s own stress-breakers and instant refreshers.

Learn to laugh at yourself

You only have to watch a situation comedy on television to realise that it is usually the unexpected or exaggerated suggestions that make you laugh. One tactic that comedians use to do this is to make fun of themselves, to send up their faults and troubles. While you may not want millions of strangers laughing at your problems, if you can make yourself laugh about them, your stress will instantaneously melt away.

Looking for the funny side of your situation can also help to remind you that most of your problems are not unique and that you are by no means alone in experiencing them.

Internal jogging

Laughing can also have a positive physiological effect on your body; it has, in fact, been described as ‘internal jogging’. A good laugh speeds up your breathing , increases your heart rate and body temperature, and triggers the release of natural pain-killing chemicals. As you wait for the punchline of a joke, your muscles tense in anticipation and when you burst out laughing, they contract. This process sets up a relaxation response which can last for up to forty-five minutes as your body recovers from the excitement.

Laughing with others

How many times do you laugh during the day? If you are not laughing that often, think about changing the company you keep; find people who make you laugh and try to spend more time with them. If you are blessed with a good sense of humour, remember to hold on to it in stressful times. It may seem inappropriate to laugh or crack a joke in the middle of a crisis but it could be just the outlet you need.

If you want to feel more relaxed, start introducing humour slowly into situations where you do not have much to lose – with friends or family.

Small doses at first

To capitalise on the tension-releasing effects of humour, knowing when to use it is vital. Cracking jokes at the wrong moment can be annoying for those around you, adding humour slowly and with moderation, however, can have a great many benefits. Try the following exercises to begin the process.

• Imagine a person who is annoying you as a cartoon caricature that always makes you laugh.
• Imagine someone in authority in a compromising position, for example, sitting in their underwear.
• Think of someone who makes you laugh and see that person on a regular basis.
• Plan to watch funny movies or comedy shows as often as you can.
• When you feel low, make a converted effort to smile. You will find that this has an uplifting effect on you and everyone around you.

In the next section we’ll learn how to deal with stress when travelling.

Travel stress >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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