An alarming number of people are becoming terminally serious. The symptoms include a permanently furrowed brow, numerous bad hair days and a loss of perspective resulting in the tendency to take oneself way too seriously (or is it the other way around?).
All this seriousness is resulting in some serious stress. For example, according to an Ipso Reid survey, 51% of Albertans have physically assaulted a photocopier. (This is probably not the healthiest way to deal with your photocopying issues.)
Fortunately, when it comes to overcoming terminal seriousness and maintaining good mental health, laughter truly is the best medicine. (Not to mention the most affordable.)
A good laugh massages facial, shoulder and stomach muscles, reduces blood pressure, increases oxygen flow, boosts the immune system and reduces stress-inducing chemicals. Studies have shown that laughter works faster on our bodies than either Valium or vodka, and that the benefits of a belly laugh can last for up to 24 hours. Dr. William Fry, a pioneer in laughter research, has found that 30 seconds of hearty laughter is the same physical workout as about three minutes on a rowing machine (now I just go to the gym and laugh at the people working out!).
And don’t think you always need a reason to laugh, because even fake laughter is good for us. So the next time you’re stressed, just start laughing. (If you feel a little self conscious laughing alone, then grab a friend, head for the broom closet and start laughing with each other).
Mentally, humor is a powerful stress buster because it’s one of the best forms of mental floss available. As Milton Berle suggested, “Laughter is an instant vacation”—it clears out the anxieties that cloud our brains in the face of stress, allowing us to tackle our problems with a clear head.
Humor helps distance us from a tragedy, breaks the tension in a stressful situation and offers us a broader perspective. It’s also an empowering tool. Humor reminds us that although we can’t always control what happens to us, we are always in control of our reactions.
Does this mean you need to sign up for a stand up-comedy class? Although it might help, it’s by no means necessary. Having a sense of humor isn’t about telling jokes or even always about being funny, rather it’s about having a sense of balance, and about finding the funny in our day to day lives. It’s how we interpret the world around us, about learning to laugh at ourselves and going with the flow. And yes, anyone can learn to flex their funny bone in the face of stress. To get started, try out one of the following R’s:
Reward. Give yourself a positive reward whenever you have to contend with a stressor. This has proven to work even with search and rescue dogs, wherein the rescue team will deliberately bury a live member of the team in the avalanche or debris, so that the rescue dog gets rewarded (“I found a live one, over here! Woof!”) and keeps its spirits up during a stressful situation.
Reframe. Do what comedians do and mentally play around with the situation to find the funny. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, turn the event into an imaginary T.V. sitcom, draft a “Top-10 Reasons This is Funny” list or try the old “it could have been worse” reframing technique—but exaggerate wildly until you can’t help but laugh.
Relax. Remind yourself that you really can choose to have a sense of humor about things. If you need help relaxing, then do something different to break free from your serious mindset. Recall a funny story and relive it. Read something funny. Get up and dance. Walk sideways down the hallway. Sing like Tom Jones. Or create a humor first aid kit and stockpile it with toys, photos, funny hats or silly props that you can easily access the next time you feel stressed out.
Remember, in the face of acute seriousness, the only person you have to amuse is yourself. So give yourself permission to tap into the most natural and the most human stress buster available –your “uniquely you” sense of humor.
Michael Kerr is an international speaker, trainer, and the author of “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work,” “Inspiring Workplaces” and “The Humor Advantage.” You can reach Michael at 1-(866)-609-2640 or firstname.lastname@example.org . For more humor at work articles, DVDs and other humor at work resources, surf on over to www.mikekerr.com .
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