Have you ever noticed how good you feel when you laugh with another, especially someone close to you? Your laughter can even help someone climb out of a funky mood.
As it turns out, 'Laugh, and the world laughs with you' is a saying backed by science. The connection is called emotional convergence - and researchers say we seem to take it to heart in who we hang around. We are vulnerable without strong human ties, and those who laugh make us want to laugh with them.
Humor is the enemy of stress, a formidable one at that. Stress management gurus recommend we keep our sense of humor during difficult times. Most of us can probably recall laughing intensely during some tragic event, such as the death of a loved one. Often we remember this laughter as helping us endure the emotional pain of the experience. Laughter releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps us keep perspective. It may also help lower stress hormone levels.
Stress is an indisputable part of a life, and learning to control it, naturally, is a lifelong process. Learn to master stress, however, and you'll likely be rewarded with better health and a greater ability to succeed in the things you want to do.
You really should laugh it up while you can.
Here are some other ways to improve your emotional health:
Deep breathing exercises
During stress, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Taking a deep breath is an automatic and effective way to wind down. Deep breathing exercises consciously intensify this natural physiologic reaction and can be useful during a stressful situation, or for maintaining a relaxed state during the day.
- Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply to the count of 10.
- Make sure that your stomach and abdomen expand while your chest does not.
- Exhale through your nose, slowly and completely, also to the count of 10.
- To help quiet your mind, concentrate fully on breathing and counting through each cycle.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times, and make a habit of doing the exercise several times each day, even when you're not feeling stressed.
Muscle relaxation techniques, often combined with deep breathing, are simple to learn and can help you get to sleep. When you first start this technique, ask a friend or partner to check for tension by lifting your arm and dropping it; your arm should fall freely. Practice increases the effectiveness of this exercise, producing relaxation more rapidly.
- Lie down in a comfortable position without crossing your limbs, and concentrate on each part of your body.
- Maintain a slow, deep breathing pattern throughout this exercise.
- Tense each muscle as tightly as possible for a count of 5 to 10, then release it completely.
- Experience the muscle as totally relaxed and lead-heavy.
- Begin with the top of your head, progressing downward to focus on all the muscles in your body.
- Be sure to include your forehead, ears, eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, fingers, chest, belly, thighs, calves, and feet.
- Once the external review is complete, imagine tensing and releasing internal muscles.
Mindfulness is a common practice that focuses on breathing. It employs the basic technique used in other forms of meditation.
- Sit upright with your spine straight, either cross-legged or on a firm chair with both feet on the floor, uncrossed.
- With your eyes closed or gently looking a few feet ahead, observe the exhalation of your breath.
- As your mind wanders, simply note it as a fact and return to the "out" breath. It may be helpful to imagine your thoughts as clouds dissipating away.
Transcendental meditation (TM)
TM relies on a mantra, a word that has a specific chanting sound but no meaning. The meditator repeats the word silently, letting thoughts come and go.
This method involves heightening awareness of your immediate surrounding environment. Choose any routine activity when alone. Try this:
- While washing dishes, concentrate on the feel of the water and dishes.
- Allow your mind to wander to any immediate sensory experience (sounds outside the window, smells from the stove, colors in the room).
- If your mind begins to think about the past or future, abstractions or worries, redirect it gently back.
- This redirection of brain activity from your thoughts and worries to your senses disrupts the stress response, prompting relaxation.
Look for a technique that trains you to reduce your heart rate. During biofeedback, electric leads are taped to your head. You're encouraged to relax using methods such as muscle relaxation or meditation. Equipment will measure your brain waves. You'll hear a sound when certain brain waves indicate you are deeply relaxed. By repeating the process, you can associate the sound with a relaxed state and learn to achieve relaxation by yourself.
Massage therapy appears to slow down your heart and relax your body. Rather than causing drowsiness, however, massage actually increases alertness. Many massage therapies are available. Swedish massage uses muscle manipulation. It is the standard massage technique and is widely available. Shiatsu applies intense pressure to parts of the body. It can be painful, but people report deep relaxation afterward. Reflexology manipulates acupuncture points in the hands and feet.
Keep in mind that a little stress is good. Without the stress of deadlines or competition, many of us couldn't push ourselves to achieve our goals. Strike a happy balance in your life, and you'll do well.
And keep watching for more of our features on ways to reduce stress and increase laughter in your work, health, and life.
|David R. Eltz is the managing editor of Synergy and Editorial Director of A.D.A.M., Inc.
David can be reached at email@example.com.