These are difficult times. The death toll from COVID-19 keeps climbing. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Sports, proms, conferences, festivals, trade shows, concerts, seminars, and more have been cancelled. And uncertainty is everywhere.
What can you do at a time like this?
Let me explain.
We’re actually dealing with two pandemics at the moment. One, of course, is COVID-19. The other, is cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress. As Web MD puts it: “Think of cortisol as nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It’s best known for helping fuel your body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ instinct in a crisis.”
To enable you to deal with a threat, cortisol affects your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, metabolism, and more. It’s a critical hormone for survival.
But cortisol works best as a temp: It comes in when it’s needed, then takes off when its job is done. It doesn’t make a good full-time employee.
Because elevated cortisol levels over a prolonged period of time can cause or exacerbate serious health problems, including:
• digestive issues
• heart disease
• high blood pressure
• high cholesterol
• learning impairment
• mental cloudiness
• poor memory
• reduced immune function
• trouble sleeping
• weight gain
Which means, when you experience extended bouts of extreme stress—such as if you’re unemployed, in an abusive relationship, caring for a sick loved one, or (I can’t help but point out) living during a global pandemic—you’re at risk for all of the above. And all of those issues negatively impact your ability to think, create, work, and sell.
Fortunately, in this situation, laughter is literally the best medicine.
Laughter has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, along with the levels of other stress hormones, such as epinephrine and dopamine. Laughter also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins. Studies conducted in 2006 and 2008 found that even just anticipating the opportunity to laugh can reduce stress hormones while boosting health-protecting ones.
But wait, there’s more!
Laughing impacts almost every part of the body. Laughter can:
• increase oxygen intake
• stimulate circulation
• aid muscle relaxation
• ease pain
• lessen depression and anxiety
• reduce stress
• fight inflammation
• improve your mood, outlook, and confidence
• increase the number of antibody-producing cells
• enhance the effectiveness of T cells
Which means that laughing regularly can boost your immune system, your mental health, your cardiovascular system, and more. It’s one of the most effective tools for coping with stress, fear, frustration, and uncertainty.
So as we are deluged by negativity in the news and in our personal lives, it’s critical to find the funny and create opportunities for laughter. Wondering how? Here are ten ways.
1. Watch comedies
If you’re going to sit on your couch and watch movies, they might as well be funny ones. Looking for recommendations? Check out:
2. Binge on sitcoms, sketch shows, and cartoons
Whether via cable, satellite, or your favorite streaming service, there are tons of new and classic sitcoms—and other comedy shows—perfect for binging. (By the way, all four seasons of the groundbreaking British comedy series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus are now available on Netflix!)
3. Call your funny friends
Everybody has at least one friend who’s a laugh riot. Call them and tell them you need a laugh. They’ll be happy to help. (I love, love, love making people laugh.)
4. Listen to stand-up comics
Sometimes you have to call in the professionals. Look for your favorite stand-up comedians—or find new ones—on your cable or satellite On Demand service, your streaming services, or online.
5. Read funny books
I’m currently reading Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Every chapter has me literally laughing until tears stream down my face. Also rereading Brain Droppings by George Carlin because he never stops being funny. Oh, and if you like your monster, demon, and vampire stories on the humorous side, check out the novels of Christopher Moore.
6. Follow funny blogs
There are a lot of funny people out there creating funny content every day. Check out:
7. Play with your kids
Children are inherently funny. And they’ll laugh at almost anything. And laughter is contagious!
8. Read comic strips
Most modern comic strips are available online. And there’s no shortage of comic collections available at Amazon and other online bookstores. (Calvin & Hobbes still makes me laugh out loud.)
9. Join a humor group on Facebook
I belong to several Facebook groups in which members post videos, jokes, cartoons, and memes. There are groups for every type and sense of humor.
10. Watch funny videos on YouTube
Just type the word “funny” into YouTube’s search engine and you’ll be laughing for hours.
The goal is to laugh every day. Several times a day. Heartily. Unabashedly. It’s one of the most powerful success habits you can cultivate. It will make you a better salesperson, leader, parent, and friend. A good sense of humor will help you face up to challenges from minor annoyances to death itself.
I’m fortunate to come from a family of people who laugh in the face of death. Visiting my grandfather in hospice during the last weeks of his life, he made me laugh. While my father fought his losing battle with cancer, he and I laughed together. And on my aunt Janet’s final night on this earth, as she lay in bed, hooked to an oxygen tank, barely able to speak, her daughter (my cousin Laura) and I made her laugh, and she made us laugh. (And we all made the hospice nurse laugh.)
In dark times, laughter is an act of defiance. It’s an act of solidarity and community. It is life-affirming in the extreme. Laughing enables us to take charge of our mood, attitude, and outlook when everything else seems out of our control. It’s empowering, both physically and mentally. And making others laugh improves their well-being.
So find the funny. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with others.
Laugh. And live.