Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stress Management: I Need a Good Laugh

Stress Management: I Need a Good Laugh


David Nelson, PT

 I previously wrote that stress can maim and kill if left unchecked.  It is a cause of heart attack, stroke, and type II diabetes.  Stress can irritate us and conflict with our ability to function in daily life.  It can build to a point where physical and mental illnesses may develop.  I discussed some examples of how major lifestyle changes and our reaction to them can create stress.  Our minds react to what we perceive as truth not what is actual truth.

There are two personality types.  One is the easy going person who moves along at a regular daily pace, and appears to be quiet, if not shy.  This type is called the ‘B’ personality.  The other type is the fast paced person who seems to be always on the move, always thinking, and is unable to relax.  That is known as the type ‘A’ personality.  Neither is better than the other.  They just are that way.  Type ‘A’ personality might go hang gliding off a cliff while on vacation and type ‘B’ might go enjoy reading a book at the beach.  Both of these types will have stressors that effect them.

In my novel, The Shade Tree Choir two of the boys were of the Type A personality and two others were of the Type B.  The main character, Krame was physically abused on a regular basis.  His friend, Blackie was also abused.  Each of those kids lived under direct or perceived threat of a beating.  There was no time to just be a kid.  Each of these eight year olds wondered constantly when the next beating would occur.  Now imagine years of this treatment each day.  What do you suppose their internal stress levels might have been like?  One of the other characters, Rink, was Type B and he too had stress.  He had the stress of increasing his weights lifted in competing against his brothers to gain his father’s approval.  He was constantly focusing on that activity to ‘prove’ himself.

The type ‘A’ might thrive on several projects at a time while type ‘B’ enjoys one thing at a time.  We use the word ‘multitasking’ in our society almost as if it is a badge of honor. First, it is neurologically impossible for the brain to focus on more than one thing at a time.  Consequently, multitasking is impossible.  Now when someone has more than one activity they are doing at the same time we think of them as possibly having a full plate or juggling many items.  Eventually they will spill the plate or drop one of the juggling items.  That is a sign of stress that will come to both personality types.

If you say or feel, “If one more thing happens I will scream! I’m so mad I can’t see straight!” You are under stress.  If you do not have one good ‘belly laugh’ a day- you are under stress. If your sleep is interrupted by racing thoughts- you are under stress.  If you feel more tired when you wake than when you went to bed- you are under stress.  Many years ago I wrote a book titled, Stress Management: Does Anyone in Chicago Know About It. I taught classes in the Southeast United States for many years.  I also used stress management techniques with my patients for some forty years.  One thing I discovered is that many people do not realize when they are under stress.  Ask your significant other, coworkers, or friends to obtain a ‘reality check’.  You might be surprised what you hear.

Stress management is finding equilibrium within ourselves.  There are two parts of the autonomic nervous system designed for just that purpose.  One is called the sympathetic and the other the parasympathetic.  The center for these two systems is found in the brain.  An analogy is where the sympathetic system is the gas pedal in our cars and the parasympathetic is the brakes.  Equilibrium is achieved when we move slowly with a foot on each and control the movement.

When activated in a stressful situation the gas pedal (sympathetic system) is pushed to the floor.  It causes us to ‘go fast’ and the following reactions occur: Eyes become dilated, movement of food in the gut region is reduced, perspiration is increased, heart rate increases as does the vigor of  contraction and amount of blood flow, circulatory flow to our muscles is increased, bronchi (or breathing passages) in our lungs become larger to accommodate more air, the liver releases large amounts of glucose or sugar, kidneys decrease their output, mental activity increases, blood pressure rises, blood flow to kidneys and intestine is reduced, metabolism is increased by some 50%.

In short, the sympathetic response is greatest when we feel threatened or in a state of distress.  The key word here is ‘feel’.  If we ‘feel’ threatened, those automatic responses occur without our control.  If we stay in that state of stress on a regular basis, the body ‘thinks’ this is what you want and this is normal.  Eventually, the body will break down due to disease.  This is why stress is related to kidney dysfunction, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, colitis, and many other diseases.  These symptoms can occur in either personality type.

Managing stress is a selfish program.  The most powerful tool used to keep the sympathetic system in check is to use the word ‘No’!  Say it often and anytime you feel like your plate is full.  Stop being a martyr at home, at work, or with your community.  Do not allow your plate to be too full or to juggle too much.

Try to get one good belly laugh each day.  Laughter is a great way to counteract stress.  I used laughter daily while treating my patients.  Laughter will reduce pain.  It also lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves respiration.  A recent study was reported by Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca that alcoholic men have a loss of emotions.  Even after years of no drinking, the damage was done.  The report stated that chronic heavy drinking damages parts of the brain that are crucial to decoding others’ emotions and to processing humor, especially irony.  I can’t help but wonder if this is what leads to bar fights when drunks literally can’t take a joke.

In The Shade Tree Choir, I was the character, Krame.  For nine years of my life I lived in a world of continual physical abuse from an alcoholic father.  My mother was also an alcoholic and mentally ill.  In the 1950s one did not share anything that happened in the home.  To help me handle difficult situations I used comedy.  I was the ‘class clown’ and always felt better when I could make others laugh - even though I was saddened inside.  I used that learned skill to help me as an adult.  For over twenty years I have been performing my show, The Cowboy Comedy Show, across America.  I still find that after a program I am relaxed and upbeat because I can laugh inside while I make others laugh outside.  You can learn more of my act at

After one of my programs an elderly woman came to me and said, “Mister, that was the funniest thing I have ever seen.  You made me laugh till I leaked.  A tear rolled down my left leg!”

My hope for each of you is to ‘laugh till ya leak’.

So far in my Blogs we have covered the following Stress Management Tools:

Learn to say “No” and to control how much is on your plate
Perform deep breathing exercises
Meditation can be a great tool for calming the soul
A Treasure Map can keep you focused
Try to get one good belly laugh each day

Want to share what works for you?

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  1. Cactus Bob's comment

    When I was going through my divorce some 30 plus years ago I was under a lot of stress. It was so bad that I had a muscle spasm on the right side of my back bone about the center of my back. That muscle would knot up and it felt like some one was pushing an ice pick in my back.I tried rubbing my back the edge of an open door and I could feel the edge jump over the knot. But I didn't know at that time it was from stress. The day I went to court and the divorce was final the knot and pain went away almost immediately. The only other time I felt something similar was the week leading up to my older brothers death. I was in NY visiting him in the hospital. He was so whacked out on morphine I had to speak loudly to get his attention. That week I had a back ache and tightness in my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack and I might beat my brother into the ground. Thursday evening my sister inlaw and I left the hospital and went back to the house . I was feeling real bad when she got the call that he passed. Again almost immediately and pain went away. The mind has away of putting a physical hold on the body an it's up the individual to find the release. I don't know if I found the release but I try to just let things go and not stew over things. Sometimes I can do it easily and other times not so easy. It is a work in progress.

  2. Thanks, Bob for your post. What you described is one of many classic symptoms as a direct result of stress. As a physical therapist I can assure you that what you experienced was a result of muscle tension that led to inflammation which then led to increased tendon tension resulting in an out-pouring of acid that caused the burn. In situations like this and left untreated over long periods of time some of the following can occur: Myalgia, tendonitis, osteoarthritis, TMJ Dysfunction, and headaches. Thanks again for the post.I hope to offer a different stress technique each week so people might find one or two that work for them. Tell your friends to join my Blog. Thanks


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