I was sitting in the park after a pretty rough day, just watching people rush by. I noticed two little siblings run up to their mother, giggling uncontrollably. Unable , to tell their mother about their adventures because they were so overcome with laughter! Can you imagine that? Two siblings rolling in the mud laughing and laughing. And obviously everyone, including the mother started laughing. And in that moment, I forgot about why I had been so upset!
No one requires a genius to tell him that humor can inevitably lighten stress. Feeling grouchy? Your friend tells you about his hilarious day and you are instantly laughing. Too much on your head? A rom-com with your loved ones and ta-da, everyone is all smiles.
I doubt anyone likes feeling upset and uncomfortable. A feeling accelerated by stress. So how can one use humour as a heroic weapon to combat stress? That was too dramatic but anyway. For that we need to understand the mechanics of stress and humour. Then focus on what techniques to utilise to create humour. Sounds like a lot of work. Doesn’t it? But it is very important, because the ability to control and manage stress will enable you to improve your mood, boosting your immunity and in turn lead to greater work efficiency and good health.
What is stress? How is it caused?
The word itself doesn’t have a lot of positivity in it right? Feels heavy and drawn. But in reality, stress is not that big a deal. It is basically the body’s defence mechanism, also known as the fight or flight mode. This defence can be triggered by anything as mundane as multi-tasking household chores, reaching college on time or something that requires you to step out of your comfort zone like public speaking, applying for a new job or even losing your present job. And it can also be something tragic like divorce of your parents, death of a grandparent, chronic illness or an unexpected business loss.
Stress is nothing but the accommodative response of the brain and body towards any external stimuli. This accommodative response was very useful for our ancestors to react quickly in dangerous situations. In fact, even in modern times it allows our reflexes to act in situations requiring an immediate response. The usual responses of stress are fear, fight and flight. These are achieved through release of hormones like dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These can result in a rise in temperature, racing heart, feeling uncomfortable, inability to talk naturally, irritability, anger , lack of mental clarity etc.
Constant stress will aggravate the release of these hormones resulting in detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system, gastric system and the nervous system. It can lead to indigestion, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders etc. Stress can directly affect a person’s level of productivity.
And over here we aren’t talking about the kind of stress that is vital to keeping things running. The kind where new ideas are being bounced back and forth and goals are being achieved. It’s the kind of stress which eventually makes you unable to keep up and there is a constant feeling of tiredness and annoyance.
What is humor?
By the way did you hear about the two silk worms in a race? It ended in a tie! Funny? No? Okay.
According to oxford dictionary “humour” can be defined as the 1. The quality of being amusing or comic or 2. The mood and state of mind. Scientifically there have been many theories on humour, however the exact science of humour still remains elusive. What might seem hilarious to a group of people can extract a tight smile from another. There are many variables to what can be humorous in a situation.
According to a Harvard professor, “it’s an important to make a distinction between humour and laughter”. “Humour is an evoked response to storytelling and shifting expectations. Laughter is a social signal among humans. It’s like a punctuation mark.”
We aren’t the only species that can laugh or find situations amusing. Various animals including monkeys, chimpanzees and even dogs have been known to express humour. The cackling laughter seen in humans is also visible in other animals.
How does humour affect us?
The human mind is easily distractible. And humour works as an excellent form of positive distraction. It allows our mind and body to focus on something other than what is worrying us permitting it to relax and take a break. There have been several theories that believe that humour causes the release of endorphins or happy hormones as there seems to be a higher tolerance to pain after being in a humorous situation. Tolerance to pain has also been linked to release of endorphins. Other neurotransmitters believed to cause happiness are serotonin and melatonin.
Humour and laughter have also been linked to lower blood pressure, strengthening the immune system by increasing the infection fighting antibodies, muscle relaxation, increased pain tolerance, brain alertness and better respiration. In short you can expect laughter and humour to improve the mood of your body’s cells along with making your mood better.
How are Humour and Stress Related?
Physiologically mediating stress requires the body to calm down. What humour involves is an extra rush of oxygen, along with relaxation of the tense body muscles. The brain has something else to concentrate on which is lighter. The body is energised, happy and alert. And as stress reduces, it is also easier to sleep at night and wake up refreshed.
Stress causes the release of hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine. The major action of humour seems to be on reducing these stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones put an alert on the body and increase blood sugar levels to fight against an adverse reaction. Humour also affects another stress hormone called dopamine. As the release of these stress hormones is reduced and hormones with health benefits are released, there appears to be an overall health benefit to the heart, lungs, brain function, digestion and muscles.
Humour also helps stress in social situations by strengthening relationships, improving team work, diffusing conflicts and promoting bonding.
In fact, several cancer patients whose bodies are dealing with excessive stressful stimuli also have reported about the health benefits of humour and laughter. Laughter clubs are used by cancer patient and their families as healing tools!
Therefore, even though we do not have enough scientific resources to explain the link between humour and stress, there is substantial physiological evidence that hour can decrease stress and promote health and longevity.
How to Incorporate Humour to reduce stress?
humour can be the most in expensive way of dealing with stress and leading to overall positivity. Being able to manage stress will give your more confidence and also allow the mental clarity to take decisions and opportunities rationally.
Some of the steps you might take to use humour as a tool to decrease stress are:
- Having a folder or diary where you can collect fun stories, memes, incidence, experiences or jokes.
- Allocating specific time of the day to reading fun stories or jokes.
- Talking to a friend who is generally humorous.
- Spending time with family and friends where everyone can narrate funny incidences.
- Trying to incorporate puns or jokes in your daily conversations.
- Making others laugh.
- Playing with toddlers or young children.
- Play with a pet.
- Imagining sitcom situation out of a stressful event.
- Hosting a slumber party.
- Watching a comedy movie.
- Doing something silly that will make you laugh.
- Attempt to laugh at bad situations rather than complaining.
- Joining a weekly laughter club.
When is seeking professional help Important?
Seeking help becomes important when you have been feeling. Some factors when you should consider seeking professional help can be:
- Been feeling overwhelmed and stressed for a several weeks or months.
- Have given up on all goals and ambitions.
- Are unable to handle low amounts of pressure in day to day activities
- Have been feeling unhappy constantly for more than two weeks.
- Unable to laugh or smile.
- Feeling empty or hollow constantly for more than two weeks.
- Disturbed sleep, appetite or concentration for a long while.
Find the inner child in you, so that you can laugh in situations that are hard to handle. Humor is a fantastic way to reduce anxiety and stress from your life. Life is a long journey; constant worrying can keep us from enjoying the little things in life. so, let go and enjoy every moment, good or bad because we certainly can’t control the universe but we definitely can handle our responses to it.
So, two guys walk into a bar ……. Funny? No? Okay.