Addressing stress and distress: The intelligence of laughter

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 by: Mitchell Rabin
Tags: stress, laughter, relaxation

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(NaturalNews) One of the best ways I have found to address distress is by undressing it and redressing it , when possible that is, with laughter. Excuse me? Yes, with laughter.

Stress is part of daily life and in excess, becomes harmful, toxic and life-threatening. It then deserves to really be called "distress".

All too often, we allow the smallest things to appear to us as monumental, and when we just change our view of it by even just a degree or two in one direction or the other, the new perspective sheds fresh light and can even show the original perception as somewhat comical.

Laughter shifts the harmonics of a situation, the dissonant chord seeking resolution in the tonic. So to open to what's tonifying is to invite relaxation into something harmonious into what was its opposite, that is, going from distress to resolution, dissonant to resolved, feeling bad to feeling good. If we take a larger perspective on the smaller details of our lives, sometimes, it can be that simple.
It's that satisfying exhale after a tense moment.

We know through experience that laughter "breaks the ice" among people socially, it eases tensions and gives difficult exchanges "a fresh start". As a therapist, coach and stress management consultant, I recommend to my clients a routine practice of loving themselves for sure, but also to routinely engage in laughing at themselves, more specifically, at their actions and thoughts, even feelings. These are all largely programmed in by early family life and later society and are quite mutable as psychology and neuroscience have corroborated over the past few years through the principle of "neuroplasticity". An interview I conducted for A Better World Radio with Dr. Joseph Dispenza based on his book, Evolve Your Brain, discusses the subject and implications of neuroplasticity at some length (

A few benefits of the 'therapy' behind laughing in general and at oneself in particular are:

1. Tensions are released. The muscles de-contract and the nervous system goes into a more para-sympathetic state.

2. On the physiological level, with the release of tension is of course, the release of pressure. Cells experience greater oxygenation, and with this oxygen increase, metabolism is slightly improved and increased which then also contributes to the cell's overall respiration, allowing for more efficient elimination, another way of saying de-toxification of the cells, that is, of trillions of cells throughout the body. We also know that when the cells are receiving better nourishment and respiration, immune function improves. We also know then that there is an increased balancing of hormones, with cortisol and adrenal reduction into the blood. This also promotes better blood circulation. So from a physiological point of view, laughter, even smiling, confers notable benefit.

3. On the psychological level, laughing at oneself is an exercise in "self-humbling". Often we're humbled by other people, but do we often humble ourselves? What better an exercise, or a more fun way to put an ego into check? A person's ability to laugh at oneself also indicates a sense of ease and comfort with oneself and a certain sense of resilience and flexibility. This also indicates a certain psychological stability and emotional maturity. One becomes more familiar with humility.

4. Laughing at oneself also harmonizes the two hemispheres of the brain, allowing them to work more in synchrony, and the same is true of the heart, promoting greater heart coherence. This is an idea that has been developed by The Heartmath Institute. The more coherent our heart, the higher-level functioning of our entire system, including the possibility for greater intuition, calmness and sense of ease with self and sense of connectedness with others, Nature, one's environment and with life itself.

Another point to be made is that stress is not distress. Stress is a normal, actually necessary part of daily life. When we stress a muscle for instance, we put pressure on it which, by breaking it down a bit, strengthens it. All movement is a form of creating deliberate stress, from which we largely benefit.

But on the other hand, distress is excess stress, stress taken to another level. Laughter therapy will often work but certainly not always and another level of addressing and undressing is called for.

In undressing it, we want to look at the different layers of stress, like layers of an onion, yet in this case, one layer perhaps complicating the other layers, which I don't believe occurs with an onion.

But in human beings, yes. A problem at the job complicates one's relationship at home, perhaps with one's spouse, lover, kids, siblings or parents. With those more complicated, it then can cause somatic disturbances as the distress is increased by emotional conflict, external or internal or usually both.

This would have to be undressed, then re-dressed, so to speak, with understanding the layers as well as the perceptions which led to the belief systems on which the varying layers of distress were predicated.

Oftentimes, slow, deliberate breathing, combined with contemplating the conflicts one feels one is experiencing, and as a creative consultant with my clients, facilitating their seeing the sources, as best possible, of these conflicts, which most always trace back to a belief system predicated on early-in-life perceptions and doubts about self is the means to resolution.

Then, when we see how we have often built a mountain out of a molehill, even in what appear to be serious, debilitating, distressing situations, we can re-introduce laughter therapy again to release the distress and let it just go. There are techniques for letting go of stress and distress such as The Sedona Method and The Release Technique. There of course is T'ai-Chi, Chi-Kung, meditation and acupuncture. There is the use of NLP or Neuro-linguistic Programming. But understanding the cause of the stress and the distress satisfies our intellectual interest to know why. Seeking out and identifying the cause, or a few of them, helps to release stress and allow that big sigh of relief itself.

Granted, there are numerous conflicts which are seen, reasonably so, as devastating in nature, and require much more thorough exploration. At the end of even the most horrific human enterprise, of which there are altogether too many populating our precious, beautiful planet, humor or laughter, sometimes no question, dark humor, can show itself.

We've heard numerous stories of laughter, comic theater and humor even in the middle of the concentration camps. It can often be a life-line even in the most devastating of situations, ironic as it may sound.

The layers are numerous and have much to do with family life mixed with our inner lives. But they extend outward much further to the effect of media, the economy, both personal and national/global, the socio-political climate in which we live, and issues these days regarding climate change and the pain we all experience on some level of what how we are collectively harming our environment based on our lifestyles. Our states are further influenced by the foods we eat, our exercise habits or lack thereof as well as our sleeping and social habits and ways.

Further articles will go into more detail about these other layers of the bigger onion, and what we can do about managing our own distress by undressing, re-dressing and laughing as well as understanding it. Through each of these, health and wellness, through laughing, smiling, lifestyle and understanding, and feeling more in control of these, really can change lives.

About the author:
Mitchell Jay Rabin, M.A., L.AC. is an international speaker, teacher, coach, entrepreneur and therapist with a background in Holistic Psychology, Acupuncture, bio-feedback and Stress Management in NYC. With an orientation toward eco-psychology, NLP, Mind-Body Therapy, Therapeutic Theater/Family Constellations, sex counseling and Energy Medicine, his work with clients is designed to empower and vitalize through insight and making wise lifestyle choices across the board. From thinking to nutrition, from the intimacy of relationship to Right Livelihood and Spiritual Activism, Mitchell has helped to facilitate change, inspiration and empowerment in his clients around the world.

Mitchell has been hosting A Better World TV show in NYC since 1993 and A Better World Radio since 2006. For more, go to:

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