Woody Allen once said, “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”
But the occasional nasal dairy-malfunction is a small price to pay for the very significant benefits offered by laughter, not the least of which is the ability to successfully manage the issue that has many of our noses out of joint far too often – stress.
The effects of stress are nothing to be sneezed at.
Stress can make us tired, sick, irritable and depressed. And thanks to the wonders of modern civilization stress is now available to us 24 hours a day in a multitude of forms ranging from the incandescent toddler demanding chocolate ice-cream when there is only vanilla to the internet connection that drops out before downloading the last ten minutes of Downton Abbey.
More than half of adults rate their level of stress as high-to-severe and some of the long-term effects on these people such as increased risk of heart disease and cancer are definitely no joke. Some 66 per cent of visits to doctors are for stress-related symptoms but this is definitely a case where laughter can really be the best medicine.
Research has clearly shown that a good chortle reduces the level of stress hormones such as cortisol and gets neurotransmitters firing that elevate our mood, make us feel safe and induce a state of internal peace and contentment.
Laughter also counteracts the stress created by our overactive “flight or fight” response that floods our bodies with adrenalin if we feel threatened.
Flight-fight served us well many moons ago when we needed to stand our ground against a gnarly Neanderthal or nimbly escape becoming a sabre-tooth tiger treat but in our world this mechanism designed to keep us alive can actually damage our health.
If I am trapped in traffic that I know will prevent me from being on time for an important meeting, there is nowhere to flee and no one to fight. Consequently all that unused adrenalin that is raising my heart rate and constricting my blood vessels has no way of being released.
As you may have noticed repeatedly punching a car horn or stiffening the central digit of your right hand has very little calming effect.
The good news is that leading laughter researcher Dr. Lee Berk has proven that the level of adrenalin in someone’s body can be reduced by up to 7o per cent when that person just anticipates engaging in mirthful laughter.
If just thinking about laughing can radically reduce the levels of your stress hormones imagine what the real deal can do.
Put simply it is possible to stress a whole lot less by learning how to create much more laughter in your life. Why not start right now? Or at least after you finish drinking your milk.
Tips to help you stress less and laugh more:
1. Don’t Scowl, Just Smile – Oh, And Carry Some Chopsticks With You!
In a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science 170 people were asked to hold chopsticks in their mouths in a way that forced them to either have a neutral expression or to smile. Those that had spent time smiling showed a faster physiological recovery after performing stress-inducing tasks than the neutral folk.
Of course you can smile without the help of eating utensils but if you try this chopstick thing in public you’ll make the rest of us laugh. Win-win!
2. Ask Yourself The Right Questions
Much of our thinking consists of questions that we ask and answer ourselves. So ask questions that will reduce your stress and increase your internal mirth.
If you ask yourself something like, “Why do I always seem to stuff things up?” then your brain will give you an answer that will probably create more stress such as, “You’re an idiot, that’s why”. If you ask a happier question such as, “What’s a fun way I could fix this problem and get a great result?” your brain will come up with some ideas that are de-stressing rather than distressing.
3. Fake It ‘Til You Make It
This is an advanced strategy that’s powerfully effective. When stressed go to your bedroom or bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror and start making laughter sounds that simulate the real thing. With a smile on your face (better not use the chopsticks for this one!) let rip with your best Santa impression as you gaze at your own reflection.
Those forced ho-ho-hoes will soon transform into a stress-relieving fit of genuine laughter. Trust me, this works – and it sometimes makes your neighbours titter too!
MORE ARTICLES BY ANTHONY ACKROYD
*Anthony defines his life mission as helping as many people as possible have amazingly happy and successful lives by teaching them how to use humour and laughter to their advantage. He continues to be one of Australia’s most popular and successful comedians as well as an international speaker on the power of laughter and humour. Anthony is the CEO of his company The Laughter Advantage which provides training to the business world. He has a wife, two children, one normal dog and a Chinese Crested Powderpuff (no really, Google it). More Anthony at www.anthonyackroyd.com You can follow him on Twitter: @anthonyackroyd.