Spontaneous laughter – Does it have to be real to count?
Sometimes when we are in the depths of anxiety, it can be hard to laugh at all. Even if someone is being genuinely funny. I remember a time when I was out with friends at a bar and everyone was laughing and having a good time. But for me, this was impossible, I was stuck in anxiety and no matter how much I wanted to laugh a long with everyone else, I just couldn´t see the point, it wasn´t going to change anything.
In the end I left as I felt awkward and couldn´t motivate myself to make the effort. But there is evidence to suggest that it is worth trying. In his study ´The Theraputic Value of Laughter in Medicine, researcher Ramon Mora-Ripoll, M.D., Ph.D, found that the “therapeutic efficacy of laughter is mainly derived from spontaneous laughter (triggered by external stimuli or positive emotions) and self-induced laughter (triggered by oneself at will), both occurring with or without humor.
The brain is not able to distinguish between these types; therefore, it is assumed that similar benefits may be achieved with one or the other.” This amazing research indicates that a ´fake it til you make it´ approach works in regards to our mood and that by just forcing ourselves to laugh, even when we don´t feel like it, we could end up making ourselves feel better. It seems that laughter is good for anxiety.
How to reduce your anxiety with laughter…
So now we know what the health benefits of laughter are. But how do we apply this to our lives. Perhaps you have a good sense of humour but are so worried and tense all the time that it´s hard to show it. Or perhaps you don´t think you have the best sense of humour or that it´s hard for you to laugh at jokes. Don´t worry, like anything, humour is a skill and you can hone it. These tips will help you:
- Make humour a priority. To keep humour in the forefront of our minds we need to give ourselves reminders to not take things too seriously.You could hang up amusing quotes, or pictures on the wall. Keep funny books, films or magazines to hand, or perhaps even go to a comedy club. If your feeling brave, you could even think about doing an improv comedy course (see the previous blog).
- Anxiety is no joke, but… Trust me, I know just how hard anxiety can be from years of fighting with OCD. Despite this, learning to laugh at it can be a powerful tool. Often our anxieties, when looked at from a place of mirth can seem quite ridiculous. Like my former obsession with my mouth and not being able to focus on anything other than the sensations of my mouth. If we can learn to laugh at the ridiculous nature of some of these worries, we can put them into perspective and refocus our attention onto something healthy. Even if this feels forced, it can help.
- Hang out with fun people. Get into the habit of hanging out with people that make you laugh. Why not learn some jokes and practice telling them at home, so you can share them with your friends. Or just tell some funny stories.
- Be aware of what´s funny and what´s not. It´s been shown that whilst people with anxiety can benefit from humour, dark humour can do the opposite. Spend your time with positive supportive people and remember that some jokes are just inappropriate, so use your best judgement.
This final point is worth discussing in a little more detail. Being british I can certainly relate to dark, ironic humour. People enjoy the banter of making fun of each other and most of the time it´s good natured and often hilarious, but it can at times cross a line. This is the type of humour that I grew up with and often take part in with friends. When i´m feeling positive and happy I love it and take the jokes at my expense on the chin, whilst giving plenty out in return.
It remind me not to take myself too seriously. But, interestingly, when I truly am taking myself way too seriously, when the anxiety is winning and i´m not in a good frame of mind, this type of humour can be really negative for me. The truth is, when you are feeling anxiety you can be more sensitive to the jokes and become defensive. People are alert to this and take home the advantage by giving you more of a hard time. These days though I manage my anxiety better and find that I hold my own much more consistently in these kinds of social groups. Even if i´m feeling some normal social anxiety, I don´t take the banter too personally, but you need to be careful
If you are easily affected by this type of humour and feel that it´s making your anxiety worse, then it might be worth identifying other groups or friends that you can spend time with. Maybe once you have more skills in managing your anxiety you can go back and enjoy a little micky taking, but take it easy and remember that what you give out, you are liekly to get back. Whatever you decide, try to spend time with positive and fun people who have your back. That way you will know that if they are making fun of you, it´s coming from a good place.
A Prescription of laughter
Researchers Berk and Tan recommend a laughter prescription for managing anxiety. Like an antidepressant prescription this approach allows people to control their anxiety through the chemical changes in the brain that laughter causes. They state that “prescribed laughter may be very helpful in that all patients—even those potentially unwilling to seek out comedy or humor—can still engage in laughter and derive benefits from it.”
Laughter is good for anxiety then. This is very encouraging, and they gone on to explain how one might go about creating a laughter prescription, either with a therapist or coach, or on their own. “We propose that laughter prescriptions might contain detailed information as to the frequency, intensity, time, and type of laughter (forming the useful mnemonic “FITT”), much like pharmacological prescriptions and exercise prescriptions.” The ´FITT´ prescription of laughter could look like this:
(F) Frequency: Twice a week
(I) Intensity: Belly laughing
(I) Time: 30 Minutes
(T) Type: Your favourite stand-up comedian on Netflix
There are many ways of creating a laughter prescription and you can be as creative as you like. Whilst funny films and tv shows can be great, there are many alternatives such as special type of yoga, in which you are encouraged to laugh for half an hour.
That completes this two part series on anxiety and laughter. I do hope you found it helpful and that hopefully it might have brought the ocasional smile to your face 🙂 Please feel free to get in touch if ypu have any questions and why not sign up to my newsletter?
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