Stress has as much impact on us when we first experience it as holding up that glass of water. The negative impact of stress depends on how long we hold onto the stress; or how quickly we can de-stress.
Read through my previous blogs to find out the biochemical functioning of stress: it releases cortisol and adrenalin. De-stressing is also a chemical release into our blood-stream.
We can prepare for stress by releasing the hormones, neuropeptide and other de-stress chemical before we encounter stress. In this way we become energised by the stress without experiencing the negative effects of stress. We perform better, but prevent life-style illnesses developing.
Laughter as an exercise is the best method of active de-stressing and also of preventative de-stressing.
We are born with a two mechanisms: a safety mechanism to optimise survival, triggered by stress; and a de-stressing mechanism to recover from and heal the damage caused by stressed, triggered by the fight or flight response to stress. Nifty!
Stress triggers fight or flight and the best chance of survival is if we are stronger and faster than during normal life. This is produced by chemical reactions within our body facilitated by cortisol and adrenalin. The physical activity of fighting or fleeing following by the panting of success triggers the de-stress mechanism.
So, whether our daily stress requires fighting or fleeing our body must rid itself of the chemicals or stress through de-stressing. Any wonder gyms have become all the rage and running and cycling are favoured pastimes? The effects of active de-stressing last for many hours and active people will attest to experiencing less of the negative effects of stress because the de-stress chemicals surge though their bodies all day.
For everyone else it is wonderful to know that we have an inbuilt activator of de-stressing that operates from 10 to 12 weeks after birth.
At that age babies begin to laugh. Not for any reason; they just laugh.
Laughter is physical activity - ask Dr William Fry, a leading researcher into the psychology of laughter at Stanford University - and it activates the diaphragm in the way that panting does.
As we grow up we are taught by our parents, teachers and society that laughter must be restricted to an acceptable set of conditions and so we unlearn unconditional laughter. But laughter is a life-saving, health-saving necessity in modern life.
I teach laughter as a life skill - a tool that you can use on a daily basis, just as you would gym or go for a run, you can have a hearty laughter workout.
In most area of your life the memorable times were almost certainly accompanied by laughter. This is especially true when you were with others, be they family or friends. Good times and laughter go hand in hand. Strengthening relationships goes hand-in-hand with laughter.
We know from our experience that laughter can foster relationships, especially between people who do not know each other. At conferences you will find the people who work together or know
each other clustered together in little groups. However, after a laughter session - laughter as an exercise without jokes - we have seen how the barriers between people break down and the huddles of people break up as everyone becomes more comfortable to start up conversations with strangers. Only, after laughing together the other person is no longer a stranger.
This simple tool can be exploited to great benefit in business; whenever a relationship needs to be built or fostered. Relationships in business lead to trust and greater sales. Use a facilitator or train a facilitator in-house to help develop business relationships.
Why is a good friend of mine afraid of chameleons? She has never been attacked by one and her reasoning brain tells her that her fear is irrational, but she will break down doors to get away from a chameleon. Where does this fear arise and why the violent reaction to fear?
Our long-term memory resides in our limbic brain or the hippocampal formation to be precise. This repository does not reason or discriminate between reality and fantasy, it just stores memories and the responses deemed appropriate. So, if someone you are dependent on in your early development creates an association of fear with an object (a chameleon), you will pull up this memory every time this object is presented. The limbic brain is also very fast. Remember when you were learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car and you were using your reasoning mind to carry out all the functions, it was difficult. But when these operations had been ‘learned’ by the limbic brain you could use your thinking mind to plan supper while driving home from work, no problem! Limbic memory is instantaneous; fear arises before you have even identified the source.
Another part of the limbic brain, the amygdala, is responsible for our survival. It hijacks all our other systems, including our reasoning brain, whenever we experience fear or anything stressful, for that matter. The task of the amygdala is to make us faster and stronger that we normally are to maximise our chance of survival (break down the door to escape the chameleon). It does this chemically through the secretion of cortisol and adrenalin. There are some 1400 chemical reactions related to these chemicals that work to make us faster and stronger so we can run or fight (fight or flight associated with fear).
Besides enhancing some of our physical systems (and suppressing others to conserve energy for the important systems), our thinking mind is also suppressed so that the learned behaviour patterns from our limbic memory are prioritised (even though these learned behaviours may be detrimental to your survival because they were learned on false premises: e.g. get away from chameleon at all costs to self and surroundings). And we experience negative emotions, in case any feelings of sympathy towards the “enemy” arise in our thoughts.
How many modern-day stressors require that we run or fight? So most of the work of the amygdala is in vain and counter-productive. Worse, cortisol and the resultant cascade of chemicals that make us faster and stronger are poisonous if they are not used for running and fighting. In this way modern-day stress harms our health and emotional well-being. In response exercise is promoted for health.
Were we to run or fight, the upshot of succeeding in our endeavour to survive would find us panting for breath. The combination of physical exertion and full-lung breathing (panting) triggers our body to de-stress. Yes, we have a survival mechanism and a de-stressing mechanism in-built. De-stressing is also a chemical process. It is initiated by the release of endorphins.
The chemical consequence is that all the physical systems are brought into balance – those that were enhanced are normalised and those that were suppressed are allowed to function again – and emotionally we feel great while our thinking mind is allowed to function again.
Laughter causes us to use the full capacity of our lungs and, as reported in the last blog, it is cardio-vascular exercise. Laughter triggers our de-stress mechanism. It is the most effective way to deal with modern-day stress. It stops the amygdala hijacking our day, keeps our thinking alert and creative and our emotions positive.
Seriousness, a pre-requisite to being taken seriously in today’s society, aids and abets our amygdala ruining our day. We need to relegate this pea-sized part of our brain to the importance it’s diminutive size deserves by replacing seriousness with levity. Laughter is the answer to modern-day survival.
That is great news!
Dr. William F. Fry, psychiatrist at Stanford University, California, began studying the physiological effects of laughter in the late 1960's. His research is oft quoted (I've added some of the references below), but the research papers do not appear to be available on the internet, so I'll quote from other authors. Christine Puder in "The Healthful Effects of Laughter' [Ref: The International Child and Youth Care Network, Issue 55, Aug 2006.] quotes that Dr. Fry compares laughter to "inner jogging", and claims laughing 100 times a day is the equivalent of 10 minutes of rowing (Fry, 1977, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1987). According to Fry, laughter increases the heart rate, improves blood circulation, and works muscles all over the body. This research is also quoted that 'Dr. Fry in one of his studies confirmed that 20 seconds of intense laughter, even if faked, can double the heart rate the heart rate from three to five minutes.' [Reference: Certified Laughter Yoga Leader training manual of Dr. Madan Kataria.]
The good news is that laughter is cardio-vascular exercise, improves blood circulation and works muscles all over the body. No gym required. Even the infirm and elderly can benefit from a thorough workout through laughter.
So how does one "dispense" laughter? Watch the Marx Brothers movies as Norman Cousins did (see previous blog post); stick with amusing friends; or learn a simple technique to laugh for exercise.
[Fry, W. (1977). The respiratory components of mirthful laughter. Journal of Biological Psychology, 19(2), 39—50.
Fry, W. (1979). Mirth and the human cardiovascular system. In H. Mindess & J. Turek (Eds.), The study of humor (pp. 56—61). Antioch University Press.
Fry, W., & Salameh, W. (Eds.). (1987). Handbook of humor and psychotherapy: Advances in the clinical use of humor. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resources. Exchange, Inc.]
The first hint was given by Norman Cousins, political journalist and one time Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the account of his recovery from Marie-Strumpell's disease (ankylosing spondylitis), (although this diagnosis is currently in doubt and it has been suggested that Cousins may actually have had reactive arthritis). [Reference: Wikipedia] "In Anatomy of an illness" Cousins wrote: "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep". "When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again (to watch Marx Brothers films) and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval." [Reference: Wikipedia]
In the late 1960's Dr William Fry (psychiatrist working at Stanford University, California) began to examine the physiological effects of laughter. He showed that laughter causes the body to produce endorphins which are our body's natural pain killers. [Reference: Certified Laughter Yoga Leader training manual of Dr Madan Kataria.]
I have heard an anecdotal story of a doctor living in Brazil who successfully tested the pain killing effect of laughter when she badly injured her leg is a car accident and underwent two operations without artificial anesthetic using only laughter to kill the pain.
One day in reading through a magazine I saw an advert for training to become a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader offered by Laughter for Africa. Quite frankly, I had never heard of laughter as anything other than something done in response to a funny situation. I also could not recall the last hearty laugh I had had. I do know that it was something my partner and I spoke of as being lacking in our lives but the situations for laughter did not seem to arise. Could I laugh for no reason? I started acting in amateur theatre when I began working and so I thought that forced laughter would be do-able.
It took nine months from first enquiring about the training till I was sitting in a Virgin Active Gym undergoing the training. With a certificate in hand after the second day, with many years in corporate management and all the confidence of standing in front of people I was still very uncertain what I would or could do with this training. Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, advocates Laughter Clubs. These are gatherings of people on a regular basis - daily in the Far East - for the purpose of laughter. Unless the venue being used charges for rental, laughter club attendance is free. So I started my first laughter club. More than 20 people came to investigate this new club but only half a dozen returned to the Saturday afternoon gathering with any sort of regularity. The year-end period saw people staying away altogether and no one returned in the new year.
A spell of working with the International Laughter Institute (now in a new guise) taught me a lot more about laughter, how to provide a service to paying clients, the essentials of training laughter and I gained invaluable experience in delivering laughter workshops and training in diverse environments. In the meanwhile I studied the basics of running an own business.
Adding from years of studying self-help books and success in my corporate career I see a strategic value to adding an active de-stressing life skill to everyone's basket of tools in reaching their greatest potential.
Take a shy, lanky child who had no friends to speak of, who did what was expected of him and you wonder how he became a demonstrative adult choosing a new career later in life that is on the leading edge of the service industry.
I chose to study Geology to avoid working in an office, to keep away from people, factories and writing reports and entered the diamond industry where I managed people, worked on ships, in laboratories, built and managed processing plants and wrote many reports. Ironic, but that is the course a human life takes.
Our choices lead us on strange paths. Once I'd completed my compulsory military service under the previous South African regime (during which I mapped soil types and walked through nature reserves where the public is forced remain in their vehicles), I learned that people were not so fearful. Rather I learned a bit about myself that made it easier to relate to people.
One of the first pass times I jumped into was amateur theatre. With a well rehearsed script it is easy stand in front of a crowd of people and take on another character. I learned to enjoy the response of an audience.
In a desire not to make a career of the corporate life I engaged in business ventures in my spare time and through this began a path of personal development. To step out of the comfort zone is unpleasant enough when changes in job occur but when one begins to prepare for an independent business living outside of the comfort zone becomes the norm and personal growth must accompany this. A diverse range of reading, from the practical to the esoteric provided a wealth of material and insight into the heights a person can reach with a little guidance.
When life nudged me out of the corporate world I already had a plan for a new career but the vagaries of life ensure that transitions are never smooth when there are still lessons to learn. Laughter entered into this period of transition and I discovered a tool of great power in facilitating transformation. It is not a technique that offers instant results, but then very few do. Through use the technique of laughter shifts the things that over-engage the mind and allows the mind to de-clutter and find perspective. New creativity and innovation become possible and by actively de-stressing through laughter these new ideas can be implemented and developed. I see laughter as the entry tool in preparing for achieving heights of which we are all capable.
In a world where stress is the order of the day and the negative effects of stress cripple our ability to achieve our full potential, this tool, laughter, is a much needed answer to achieving a better life. And that is how I come to be a passionate proponent of the technique of laughter for no reason and have dedicated my career to spreading laughter for the growth of the world.
Laughter Strategist, Laughter Coach, Master Trainer with a passion to assist people transform their lives to reach their highest potential.