I think it’s fair to say that most people have experienced some of those days. The day where things seem bleak, it’s a struggle to get out bed and the abyss is hovering there, all consuming. I feel you, I’ve been there and I can usually get a nice little wallow going. And for some reason there is that one optimist buzzing around you, saying “It’s not so bad”, “It could be worse” or “Don’t be sad” and you are torn between punching them or responding with “Thank you, never thought of it like that before! It fixes everything!”, that drips with sarcastic venom. You know the one, they like to live by the old adage “Laughter is the best medicine!”. However, the optimists may have a point. From my own experience and from scientific research, there is a basis that humour really is beneficial as a coping mechanism.
The little stress bug has had a tight stranglehold on society for a while now, and is becoming a prominent silent killer. Everyone experiences stress differently but what we can all agree on is that its effects can be detrimental. When your body perceives a threat, it will trigger a stress response, as well as the release of stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline norepinephrine, dopamine and others). Cortisol, the main essential stress hormone, has a slower impact time than adrenaline, which creates an immediate flight or fight response, and is also slower to return to normal ranges. However, when a person is continually undergoing a stress response, like when someone suffers from anxiety, the prolonged exposure to cortisol can start to have adverse effects on the body, such as:
- High blood pressure;
- High blood sugar;
- Increased risk of diabetes;
- Increase in abdominal (visceral) fat;
- Increased risk for heart disease from diabetes and the increase in abdominal fat;
- Hypothyroidism from decreased thyroid function;
- Risk for a decrease in lean muscle mass leading to muscle wasting;
- Risk of osteoporosis because of decreased bone formation;
- Decreased collagen synthesis leading to weak bones and fragile tissues;
- Slower wound healing because of decreased substances needed for healing,including inflammatory cells;
- Susceptibility to infections because of suppressing the immune system;
- Irregular or no menstrual cycles;
- Low testosterone, low sperm count and erectile dysfunction is men; and
- Sleep disturbance and impairment in concentration, short term memory and focus.
But before you get overwhelmed by that information, there is a solution to this. As cortisol is a slow producing hormone, there is an opportunity to distract the brain long enough from a stress response to cease the production of cortisol and thus, limit the adverse affects. I'm a big advocate for exercises like breathing, mindfulness, meditation, anything really that can distract your mind from the stress. The simple reason for this is that your body can not experience stress and relaxation at the same time!
ActsIntuitively has started to produce a book series that incorporates this idea into an awesome method, that when used consistently, can help with this, in addition to not personalising events ("An Antidote To Workplace Bullying" is available here and here). I started using this process three years ago, when my 7-month old daughter and I, had just left an abusive relationship and this process was life-changing for me! It got me through a time in my life I didn’t believe I would survive. On most days, this process is all I need to step back, not stress and not personalise. However, when I first started to learn this process, I really struggled to let go of the things that had its little stress grip on me. This was also made worse when I had a lot of outside stress coming at me all at once. The only emotional release that I knew before this process, was to repress things until I exploded with anger, like a soft drink bottle given a good shake and then curl up into the fetal position in the nearest corner, rocking quietly to myself, crying. It was never pretty, and I have only seen similar destruction after a natural disaster has swept through a city. The best advice I was given by one of the wisest people I know, was at those times all you have to do then is to laugh. I know it seems almost too simple but that’s the role humour (or ha-ha’s if you will) can play in coping. It allows you the distraction and emotional distance from events to have your emotional release, healthily. No more "Warn The villagers!" moments.
There has been quite a bit of research over the last few decades into the effects of laughter and use of humour can have on brain activity and people’s ability to cope in times of stress. When you use more laughter to deal with the stress response, it is both physically and emotionally beneficial. The act of laughter triggers a chemical cocktail of "feel-good" hormones (NK cells, endorphins, serotonin, growth hormone, interferon-gamma etc.) that boost the immune response, diminishes the secretion of stress hormones, boosts the secretion of growth hormones and endorphins, stimulates circulation and muscles relaxation and helps release repressed emotions that have been bottled up (Yay for cathartic experiences!). Furthermore, it helps regulate dopamine levels (the reward hormone), which increases our feelings of pleasure. Then the more we do it and reinforce it, the more we like it! Overall, this means that the more we use humour to deal with situations, we are replacing maladaptive coping mechanisms that we have developed over time (screaming, crying, judging, deflecting and cursing everyone that crosses our path) with the ability to emotionally distance ourselves from stressful events and build up our resilience to those situations. This means that over time, we will effectively soften our reactions to these events.
So now that we know this, where to begin? The biggest problem I had when I started this process was that, after having such an extended period of time using maladaptive coping mechanisms, I had forgotten how to laugh. I had no clue how to find the funny in situations any more. Everything felt serious! So, the places I decided to start from was a "fake it, til you make it" approach. I forced myself to smile and even fake laugh (and it got more than a few weird looks when I did this at inappropriate intervals) and after a while the physical action of laughing, actually can neurologically trick the brain into feeling that emotion.
Fun Fact: This is the same trick that some actors use to feel spontaneous emotions during acting. It’s called the "Method of Physical Actions" and was developed by the Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. It’s an amazing trick if you need to learn to cry on cue.
Other things I tried was purposefully looking for things I found funny, watching comedians on YouTube, watching movies that make you laugh, even searching for funny memes on Facebook...however, be careful with the last one. The trick is to skip right past people’s personal posts and go straight for the memes. Sharon’s current midlife crisis where she ran off to Spain will only makes you feel worse, unless she included a hilarious experimentation with Spandex. Move past it! Basically, anything you find amusing, use this for a way of distracting the brain. It will take time and will need to be used consistently. But the more you do it, the more you will want to do it and eventually it will become natural. And if you slip up, don’t stress just keep going and let out the ha-ha’s :).
If you are interested in finding out more about what we can do for you then please feel free to visit our main website or contact us. Thank you for your time, for reading our blog post and it would be great if you feel the need to share or like our articles via one of our social media platforms with the @ActsIntuitively tag as applies.
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Ruddock, V. (2018). What Are Stress Hormones? LoveToKnow.
Available at: Link [Accessed 3 Apr. 2018].
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