Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coping

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse...Laugh!

Well, it finally happened. It’s happened many times figuratively, but last Saturday it happened for real.

After taking my 18-month-old grandson Eli to the park, we stopped by the nursing home to visit my Mom. Eli chose that moment to express his independence in the middle of the hall, balking in loud and no uncertain terms about going in any direction other than the one he chose.

Now, over the years I have taught many parents what to do when a child has a tantrum. You ignore the little darling. But what if that child is blocking the hall where elderly people are creeping by on unsteady feet or in wheel chairs? And what if you fantasize that people are looking at you like, “So the psychologist can write about it and teach about it, but can’t do it!”

Juggling cell phone, an open Diet Coke, keys, and various other small items, I picked the young rebel up under my arm like a sack of potatoes and headed out. He was kicking and screaming, and I felt like doing the same thing.

Just as I stepped off the porch, I felt a large “splat” on my head. “It’s started to rain,” I thought. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I guess I should be thankful it wasn’t an entire flock just coming from a big dinner in a green apple tree!

Ever have a day, or a week, or a month like that? Shampoo was one aspect of the cure for my stress, but not the best one. In my opinion, the best part of the remedy was LAUGHTER.

Workplace Stress

The International Labor Organization has estimated that work stress costs employers more than 200 billion dollars a year. Further, the World Health Organization has reported that about ¾ of people who seek psychological help have symptoms that relate either to the lack of job satisfaction or the inability to relax.

I am convinced that one of the most important productivity tools in the workplace is humor. Finding the humor in the daily chaos and sharing a laugh with others is a powerful antidote to the pervasive stress that can diminish morale and wreak havoc in work relationships.

When I describe humor as a productivity tool, I can hear my third grade teacher’s voice in my head, saying, “Beverly, stop playing and get to work!” Implied in her scolding voice is the erroneous notion that work and play are opposites. In fact, the research supports the fact that play (humor, laughter, and fun) makes people better workers. They’re more open, creative, and cooperative.

Let’s examine five reasons that laughter is the best workplace (and personal) medicine.

How Humor Helps

1. Humor is a stress reliever.

When you are able to find humor in a difficult situation, you gain perspective. It pulls you out of the muck and gives you a sense of control.

I often consult with healthcare organizations. An ER team I was working with had a particularly stressful Saturday night – a heart attack, a multiple-car auto accident, and a gunshot wound - and it wasn’t even 8:00 o’clock.

All of a sudden, a man in his 30’s burst through the doors, yelling, “Help! Papa’s not breathing!”

The ER staff rushed to the car where Papa lay in the back seat. Quickly they got him onto a stretcher and rolled him into the trauma room. They continued to “code” him, working feverishly and searching in vain for a response from some vital sign. Finally, they realized, Papa could not be revived.

The doctor called the large family together to break the sad news. “We’re very sorry. We did all we could. He’s gone.”

Wails went up from the family crowd. Mama’s knees buckled, and as she fell backward, her two sons caught her.

“Oh, my God,” she cried, “That’s what they told us at the other hospital, too!”

Gives a whole new meaning to the term second opinion, doesn’t it?

Laughter gives immediate stress relief. It stimulates the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural stress-reducing chemicals.

Mark H. McCormich, the premier sports business manager and author of “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” said, “Laughter is the most potent, constructive force for diffusing business tension. If you can point out what is humorous or absurd about a situation or confrontation, you will be guaranteed the upper hand.”

2. Laughter creates improved physical health.

The evidence for the health benefits of laughter abounds in the research literature. A good old-fashioned laugh does all kinds of wonderful things for your body. Here are a few of them:

  • reduces blood pressure;
  • relaxes muscles;
  • strengthens the immune system;
  • oxygenates the blood;
  • reduces pain and increases pain tolerance;
  • protects the heart.

King Soloman in the book of Proverbs said, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” The medical studies back this up.

The person who laughs, lasts.

3. Laughter builds teamwork and comaraderie.

I was doing a program in San Diego. I was about to get on the elevator when I passed a man pushing his screaming, crying son in the stroller. This baby was red-faced and was announcing to all the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. I said to no one in particular as I passed by, “Somebody’s not very happy.”

His dad answered, “Yeah, and the baby’s upset, too!”

We shared a laughing ride in the elevator, and the mood was totally changed. Even the little screamer calmed down.

Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

4. Humor stimulates creativity.

Laughter sweeps away the anxiety and therefore frees concentration and creativity. Loosening up with a couple of chuckles sharpens thinking and releases inhibitions…both ingredients in great brainstorming, moving beyond the obvious, and creating innovative solutions to problems.

5. Being able to laugh at yourself is one of your greatest emotional skills!

In his book, “Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart”, Dr. Meyer Friedman concludes: “The person most effectively protecting himself against the continued progress of coronary artery disease is the person willing to see himself and his affairs as ludicrously unimportant in the planetary scheme of things.”

When you can laugh at yourself…

  • you take the sting out of what others say;
  • you become easier to deal with and much more likeable;
  • you both appear and become more confident and self-assured;
  • you gain control over things that embarrass you.

I’ve made a pledge to laugh at myself more. Join me, won’t you, in taking your work seriously, but never taking yourself seriously?

Laughter is like changing a baby’s diaper. It doesn’t permanently solve problems, but it surely does make things more acceptable for a while.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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