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Happy as a frog in the mud—why laughter and play are drug-free antidotes to stress

February 14th, 2018

 

This wee soul is ‘happy as a frog in mud’ – I took this wee snap on my iPhone.

Laughter, humor, and playtime are great tonics during stressful times. Taking yourself or your life too seriously only increases stress. When you learn to laugh despite your difficulties, you light up the world.

“When people just look at your face,” the Dalai Lama said to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, “you are always laughing, always joyful. This is a very positive message. It is much better when there is not too much seriousness. Laughter, joking is much better. Then we can be completely relaxed.”

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good chemicals, setting off an emotional reaction which makes you feel better.

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”

You have to be able to laugh at, with, in spite of, your self—and whatever situation you find yourself in. Have you ever wondered why?

Right now, we’re thigh deep in mud during our home renovations. It’s summer, it’s not supposed to rain!

I went in search of scientific articles to validate what I already knew—humor is a fantastic antidote to stress. But I wanted to know what was happening in our brain when we decided to look at something in a more humorous and positive light.

An article posted in Science Direct cited numerous studies validating the benefits of nurturing laughter.

“Without humor, life would undeniably be less exhilarating. Indeed, the ability to comprehend and find a joke funny plays a defining role in the human condition, essentially helping us to communicate ideas, attract partners, boost mood, and even cope in times of trauma and stress,” the authors say.

These beneficial manifestations are complemented physiologically, including acting as a natural stress antagonist and possibly enhancing the cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine systems.

Some studies the report says, “have documented increased hemodynamic signal in the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system, a system known to play a pivotal role in drug reward and motivational behaviors.

“This system encompasses a variety of distinct, but interconnected, dopamine-enriched structures, including the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, and the amygdala.” fMRI studies also reveal important clues about the neurological systems involved in regulating reward.

All good to know—and more fuel for reminding myself to laugh and play.

So instead of wallow in misery, the builders and I stood around and cracked a few jokes and laughed a lot.

“I’m going back to play in the mud,” one of them finally said, whistling as he walked.

Personally, as we all headed straight back into the sludge, I didn’t feel the difference in my brain, but I did in my heart. We love mud. Okay, I’m lying, but the truth is after joking around it did feel better.

The other thing that helped with playing with my camera for a moment. Using my macro lens and my iPhone I took several stunning photos of a frog surrounded by muddy water. I posted the photo on my blog and called it “Happy as a frog in the mud.”

You may not feel like it, but give laughter a go. Watch a funny movie, stream a stack of whacky comedies, go to a comedy show, or watch a video on YouTube. Hang out with people who know how to have a good time, go to a Laughing Yoga class, or ask someone to tickle you!

Inject some more laughter and playfulness into your life.

Playfulness is bounciness at its best. Cultivate your inner child. Act up a little, goof-off, experiment, relax and detach—if you find yourself in trouble, smile.

Benefits of play include:

• Increasing your productivity

• Boosting your creativity and problem-solving skills

• Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression

• Improving your relationships and connections with others

• Bringing more balance, fun, lightness, and levity into your life

• Diminishing your worries

As play researcher and psychiatrist Stuart Brown says in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, “A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it’s a health risk to your body and mind.”

The Dalai Lama agrees. “I met some scientists in Japan, and they explained that wholehearted laughter—not artificial laughter—is very good for your heart and your health in general.”

Some of the many ways I play include: “wagging” work sometimes and taking my inner child on a playdate to the movies, going for a massage, or indulging in my hobbies and playing with my paints. Listening to music from the 70s is also playful and brings levity. While traveling internationally recently, I watched the Disney children’s movie Frozen. I haven’t laughed so much in years.

I also love reminding myself of the magic of writing and reading. As novelist Caroline Gordon once wrote, “A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”

Author Deepak Chopra confirms the power of lightening up,  “When we harness the forces of harmony, joy, and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease,” Chopra says.

Check out my blog for some strategies to reinforce play and create more bounciness in your day—http://bit.ly/29RPQis

 

This is an edited extract of Cassandra Gaisford’s new book, Your Beautiful Mind: Control Alcohol, Discover Freedom, Find Happiness and Change Your Life. To purchase your copy and discover the surprising joy of sobriety, click here to go to your online bookshopgetBook.at/Controlalcohol

 

 

p.s. Nora Roberts once said, “I need to write my books in peace.” Hmmmm, so do I, but right now, we’re in the midst of a renovation project. It’s supposed to be summer here—it never rains, but this year it has poured….and poured…and poured.

My true love had a dozen red roses delivered to cheer me up this Valentine’s Day—I thought it would be fun to share this photo with you!

 


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