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How To Break Down Stress And Build Up Resilience

“First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.” ― Steve Martin

Have you ever been in a really stressful situation and all you could do was laugh? 

Hopefully it didn’t include having a disease named after you.

I’m fairly sure Martin’s joke doesn’t involve a real person. It is a bit dark – as was Martin in his early days. However, it illustrates how humor can alleviate even the most dire of situations. 

Not only has laughter been scientifically proven to improve your physical and mental state, it’s a valuable resource in times of stress or struggle. Like now. 

Letting go and laughing also helps to build up personal resilience – an invaluable skill and quality in times of crisis, chaos or unexpected change.

In addition to stress reduction and increased resilience, it leaves you more open to events and people around you.

It’s also contagious. Give someone a big smile and see what comes back.

DailyOM founder Madisyn Taylor encourages us to share it:

“Laughter is good medicine, and we all have this medicine available to us…We magnify the effects of this medicine when we share it with the people in our lives.”

The Covid-19 restrictions have made things very hard for many people. No doubt you or someone who know has a lot more sadness right now than fun. It’s important we are sensitive to them.

But, there are moments when you can laugh. Despite the cloud hanging over you.

“During our journey, we can become very serious – it’s important to remember to have fun along the way”, Ms. Taylor reminds us.

Break Down To Build Up

A few years ago I was taking part in the first block of an intensive certification course in Zurich. I knew only one other participant. Casually. The topic was therapy-based, not business. The language was German. Needless to say, I was out of my comfort zone. BIG TIME.

During a group discussion on the afternoon of day 2, the teacher/therapist told a story about once going out of his way to help extract a woman from an abusive relationship only to have her quit therapy soon after. Apparently, she did not appreciate his good deed.

I don’t know if it was the way he told the story or the fact that his patient’s actions were ironically absurd, I began to laugh. And couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to, either. It was like getting reacquainted with a good friend. 

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was letting off stream. Decompressing. From the travel effort to get there to exerting myself to understand and be understood, the previous day and a half had been highly stressful. My laughter broke down my stress and more importantly, opened me up to profound learning for the rest of the course.

That afternoon in Zurich I made two big realizations about myself – 

1. Humor is a must-have for my learning.

2. Humor builds up my resilience so that I can handle stressful situations. 

After that experience I made the decision that if what I was doing didn’t cause some element of joy or give me the ability to occasionally laugh, it simply wasn’t worth it.

Bring The Joy

In doing extensive research for High Performance Habits, best-selling author Brendon Burchard found a direct correlation between joy and performance:

“It turns out that joy, more than anything else, is what gives them capital “E” Energy. If you feel joy, your mind, body and emotional reality all get a lift.” Incidentally, Energy is one of his top 6 Habits.

Apropos of joy, “They don’t wait for joy to land on them, they bring it.”

To my knowledge, there’s no better way to embrace joy than to allow yourself a big, long, healthy laugh.

In our culture, we tend to value hard work and seriousness. In all the busyness and serious business, we forget to pay attention to the equally important light side of joy and laughter.

Of course, it is also important to allow ourselves to be serious and to honor that side of ourselves so that we stay balanced.  Also, it’s important to be sensitive of those that have felt real pain and loss as a result of negative events. Like this global pandemic.

Take Action Today

If you’re a fan of Mad Men you probably have an opinion on Roger Sterling’s value to his firm. Say what you will about the silver fox, he knew how to laugh in the face of bad news (see example below).

We never find out why he was laughing here but to him it didn’t matter. It got him through that stressful day.

A little laughter can help you through tough times too. So don’t suppress a laugh when you feel it coming.

P.S. To better embrace humor for increased personal resilience, drop me a note and we’ll set up a time to chatinfo@tim-nash.com

  • Nice one Tim.
    Yes, I guess, especially now, is as good a time as any to consider how seeing the humour inherent in the human condition can be a cathartic circuit breaker that can really put things into some sort of perspective.
    Although Roger did like a bit of LSD as well.