In the last hour, have you felt compelled to answer yet another call on your cell phone or blackberry? Has an angry boss or spouse yanked on your last nerve? Has the television, newspaper, radio, or internet bombarded you with bad news? Have you had problems communicating with your family, friends, or co-workers due to irritability or frustration? Have you suffered from muscular tension, stomach acidity or lack of focus? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be “biochemically challenged,” and you are not alone.
According to the Families and Work Institute, four our of ten workers are experiencing burnout on any given day. The stress of daily living seems to be ever-increasing and its effects on work and home life are daunting:
- Stress costs American companies 300 billion dollars annually (Families and Work Institute).
- Approximately 18.8 million adults in America suffer from depressive disorders every year. That's almost 10% of the US population over the age of eighteen (National Institute of Mental Health).
- Several studies attest that stress increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Communication failures and subsequent familial strain was the second most common cause of divorce in 2006 at 21.6% (Divorce Magazine.)
Clearly, we need to learn to deal with stress before it deals with us. The rising costs of health coverage alone are enough to put you on edge. Boost your benefits by using a tool that's powerful, efficient, and (best of all) free – your sense of humor!
The Physical Benefits of Laughter
Stress plays a major part in health issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and other muscular and skeletal conditions. In fact over 75% of all doctor visits involve stress related illnesses. In the past year, over 43% of the American population has suffered the physical effects of stress (American Psychological Association). The phrase “worried sick” is common in our society for a reason! However, the physical act of laughter has been shown to:
- improve cardiovascular function (U. of Maryland Center for Preventive Cardiology)
- relax muscular tension
- exercise the internal organs
- elevate mood
- improve pain tolerance
The Psychological Benefits of Humor
As William Shakespeare said, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. ” (Hamlet 2.2). The most crucial thing to focus on when working to reduce daily stress is one's perspective. Consider the words of Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 – 135 AD), “People are disturbed not by things, but by their perception of things.” Almost two thousand years later, the opinion of modern mental health professionals is consistent with this sentiment. It is not the events of our daily lives that cause our stresses, but the meanings we assign to them. However, humor naturally shifts perspective. When you learn to shorten the time it takes to shift your perception, you will have mastered one of the most effective stress management techniques. Humor's benefits include:
- reduction of anxiety, stress, and tension
- abatement of anger and hostility
- support of psychological well-being/enhance mood
- heightened sense of general well-being/empowerment/self-esteem
- improved interpersonal relationships
The Social Benefits of Shared Laughter and Mirth
Laughter shortens the distance between people. It is the ultimate bonding tool during high stress situations, assuring all involved that a positive outcome is possible. Humorous conversation facilitates an increase in eye-contact and inter-personal touch and opens doors for future communication. Sharing one's own sense of humor shows that he or she is approachable - and human! Laughter or the sharing of common experiences can reduce friction among team members. Colleagues that can laugh together enjoy:
- more finely tuned coping skills
- increased job satisfaction
- better productivity
- enhanced creativity
- higher morale
Remember: laugh “with” others and not “at” them!
You Cannot Lose!
What else can guarantee such improvements in your daily life – and at no cost? In today's pressure-ridden world, it is imperative to remember that, although stress is inevitable, suffering is optional. Take charge of your life and rid yourself of the biochemical roller coaster by incorporating a few of these easy tips!
1. Start every day with humor. Read the comics before anything. Clip and save your favorites for days when you are in a rush, or to share with family, co-workers, clients, etc.
2. Invest in funny audio books and comedic musicians. Laugh your way through long transit times.
3. Take mini ha-ha breaks during the day. Share a laugh with someone you encounter.
4. Show off your sense of humor however possible. Decorate your workspace with things that make you laugh. Seek out note pads, mouse pads, coffee mugs, etc. with a lighter side.
5. Start a joke file or humor library including personal stories. Keep it clean and practice sharing bits of it. This will enhance your interpersonal skills and pep up a boring presentation or meeting!
6. Socialize with people that laugh a lot. Avoid grouches at all costs.
7. Make Sunday “Funday.” Avoid techno-stress by turning off all electronic devices. See if you can go a day without email, text messaging, the Internet, or using your cell phone.
8. Embrace an attitude of appreciation- especially for things that tickle your funny bone.
For more information or the research mentioned in this article, please visit:
The Families and Work Institute http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/main.html
The National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
Divorce Magazine http://www.divorcemag.com/statistics/index.shtml
The American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org
U. of MD Center for Preventive Cardiology http://www.umm.edu
Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor http://www.aath.org
Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach by Rod A. Martin, PhD www.amazon.com
© 2007 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted as long as the author is notified and the following information is included:
Kathleen Passanisi PT, CSP, CPAE is an internationally recognized transformational speaker, therapeutic humor expert, healthcare professional and author. She has spoken to bajillions of people about life balance, wellness, the power of perception, and the link that exists between humor and health. Kathleen is a member of the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame and the funniest woman in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri (and, quite possibly, the Western Hemisphere.) For more information on Kathleen's presentations, books, and products please visit the New Perspectives website at www.KathleenPassanisi.com.