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Anxiety is no laughing matter.
Whether you struggle with trauma, uncertainty, depression, loss, or fear, your mood is at best deadpan. And your tolerance for humor nil.
But what if I told you that a healthy belly laugh can lighten your emotional load, improve your health, and relieve stress?
Science proves that humor benefits your nervous and immune systems, boosting both health and mood. It doesn’t stop at the science, though; I have first-hand proof of laughter’s fortifying power.
My Adjunct Leukemia Therapy
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”–Steve Martin
After discovering my blood cancer, a faded but not-forgotten memory of Norman Cousins reverberated through my shell-shocked brain.
When struck with a painful, degenerative disease, Cousins accompanied his medical treatments with humor, spending most of his waking hours laughing. And he lived to tell about it.
That shred of memory galvanized me to create my own laughter therapy.
I binge-watched old sitcoms, silent comedy films, stand-up comics, and humorous modern-day flicks. My daily laughs buoyed my spirits and gifted me with pain relief, greater resilience, and the emotional release I desperately sought.
Smiling in the face of pain and anxiety soon developed into a habit, one that supported me through the chemos, a bone marrow transplant, and a long convalescence.
Even today, I often balance my blue funks with hearty laughter. Sometimes humor will come naturally. Other times, to reap its benefits, I make a conscious effort.
Anyone can tap into this abundance of potential stress relief, because we all possess this ability to laugh.
How do you harness humor to curb anxiety?
Follow these 5 simple steps and you’ll soon rebound from anxiety through laughter.
Ditch The Self-Imposed Guilt Trip
“I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap.”–Rodney Dangerfield
When coping with stress, do you feel laughter is inappropriate? Or, are you convinced you don’t deserve happiness and halt humor in its tracks?
Self-imposed guilt trips often block your own joy.
Yet, breaking through that door of guilt to let your levity loose is an essential first step to stress resilience. Humor plays a pivotal role in surviving anxiety only when you allow it to help.
But how to let that guilt trip go? Journaling is one great way to examine your feelings. Or imagine your best friend is struggling with guilt. How would you convince her to overcome it?
Be compassionate with yourself as you understand the cause of that culpability, then let it go.
Tickle Your Personal Funny Bone
“Facebook just sounds like a drag. In my day seeing pictures of peoples’ vacations was considered a punishment.”–Betty White
Once the emotional blocks fall, understand what makes you laugh. Is it sarcasm, slapstick, or dark comedy? Though science struggles to understand humor, you already have a plethora of information about your comedic tastes.
The answer is in your past.
Start as I did; make a list of your favorite humorous films, TV shows, and books. You might discover a pattern leaning towards one kind of comedy or another. Or you might have an eclectic mix.
The bottom line is that the more you understand your preferred type of humor and what tickles your funny bone, the easier it is to produce and replicate that laughter.
Give Thanks for The Memories
“As you get older, three things happen. The first is your memory goes, and I can’t remember the other two.”–Norman Wisdom
Now that you’re on memory lane, stay there. Because the third uplifting step is to joggle your humorous memories.
Think back to funny times and absurd moments in your life. Remember entire scenarios as vividly as you can. Relive that moment in your mind, or reminisce with others.
This gracious trip into your own personal archive of comedic moments is a sure-fire pick-me-up. Soon the chuckles and guffaws follow naturally, releasing any pent-up tension.
Remember, “Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition!” *
Now that you let go of guilt, understood your personal humor preferences, and giggled your way through memory lane, return to your list of movies, sitcoms, and books.
Choose only what has made you laugh in the past. Now is not the time for experimentation if there is no guaranteed mirth. Stick with what works. Then dive into your selections one by one, scheduling them into your day. The greater your anxiety, the greater time for laughter therapy.
When cooped up in a hospital room, I dedicated an entire journal to my comedies’ list. Even my dad pitched in, searching for jokes online to make me smile at least once every day.
Spin Humor Into A Lifelong Habit
“I don’t know how to act my age. I’ve never been this age before.”–Unknown
As silly as it might sound, laughing is no laughing matter. A humor habit is just as important as a healthy diet, so keep your laughter awareness alive.
To make laughter more intentional, keep track of daily funny moments in a journal. Or examine the humor of life at the end of each week. You can even practice laughter yoga.
For example, in this age of COVID-19, I lacked laughter without friends or family nearby. So I made a point of watching comedy sketches for at least 15 minutes a day.
Remember that, even in your darkest hours, the lightness of levity counterbalances the gloom.
Love Your Laughter
“If you find it hard to laugh at yourself, I would be happy to do it for you.”–Groucho Marx
In the most stressful of times, my daily dose of humor kept a smile on my face. But what makes me laugh might not work for you. Humor is subjective because everyone is unique.
So nourish that bubbling humor inside you. One day you’ll even learn to laugh at yourself and create a life that’s a little lighter and brighter than before.
Even the mere journey of discovering humor and unleashing its potential will change your life. And if an apple a day can keep the doctor away, then a laugh a day can keep anxiety at bay.
*Michael Palin from Monty Python
About the Author:
Michelle Grace Maiellaro
An American expat in Italy with a versatile career history, Michelle Grace Maiellaro is a leukemia survivor who helps midlife women triumph through life crisis and change. Download her free resource, Resilience 101: The Quick-Start Guide To Survive Uncertain Times on her blog, The Resilient Woman Today.