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humor stress management techniques

humor stress management techniques Don’t laugh—or, rather, do laugh! Cynical readers might snicker at the notion
of humor as a signifi cant approach to stress management, but I encourage them to have a good laugh instead, which is better for stress than a snicker.
According to a growing body of research, humor results in a general decrease
in stress hormones (Berk, 1996; Holden, 1998). Vigorous laughter temporarily
increases the heart rate, benefi ts the immune system, increases alertness,
and even exercises skeletal muscles. Levels of both epinephrine and dopamine
decrease as a response to humor and laughing. Moreover, laughing has musclerelaxing
qualities very similar to the tensing and release associated with progressive
muscular relaxation. Following extended laughter, there is a brief
period during which blood pressure lowers and heart rate decreases. Respiratory
rate and muscular tension decrease, resulting in feelings associated with
relaxation—all positive elements of stress management. Again, humor seems
to involve a similar set of reactions to the other stress-management strategies:
an increase in muscular activity, followed by a muscular/biochemical release,
and a focus of attention on issues other than stressors.
Besides the physiological benefi ts of laughing, humor promotes a change
in cognitive perspective. Much humor is based on the premise that something
that seems terribly important is not actually so earthshaking. A good laugh
is not self-focused and so, at least momentarily, lessens self-preoccupation.
Th erefore, incorporating humor in counseling sessions can have a healing
eff ect. Of course, it’s important that counselors not convey the idea that they’re
laughing at clients or at their situations, or that they underestimate clients’
suff ering. Yet, while remaining empathic and taking clients seriously, counselors
can still fi nd appropriate opportunities to incorporate humor. Doing so
encourages at least some clients to view their own circumstances diff erently,
to take a more lighthearted and less catastrophic view of their problems.
For many students, the encouragement to focus on humor for 15 minutes
per day is more appealing than a comparable period of meditation, relaxation,
or exercise. To assure that this approach isn’t dismissed as nonprofessional, this
suggestion can be incorporated with the other stress-reduction approaches.
Once again, however, it is important to convey the value of humor in a manner
that does not leave clients feeling that their concerns are being dismissed.
How does one go about recommending humor? Some suggest encouraging
the student to start each day with a few minutes of smiling, followed by a brief
focus on ridiculousness. Others fi nd late aft ernoon to be a more ideal time for
this exercise. If students are skeptical about it, one can invite them to try it
on a brief experimental basis, to see if such a minor shift can have a positive
eff ect. Assuming that this strategy goes well, a next step would be to encourage
a minimum of 15–20 minutes of laughing most days of the week. For many
individuals, that amount seems minimal. For others, it seems unreachable.
Th e latter should be told that they may have to be creative in their pursuit of
a few laughs: computer sites, TV programs, politicians’ promises—whatever it takes.

Although off ering a counseling-center group based on humor might create
skepticism among university professionals, incorporating a time for humorous
exchange in stress-management workshops can be very eff ective and, well,
funny. Preceding a period of deep muscular relaxation with a few minutes of
humor can be an excellent integrative approach. In the stress-management
groups that I have led, the amount of time spent practicing progressive muscular
relaxation decreases with each session as the number of muscle groups
tensed and relaxed reduces. I have used the extra time to promote discussion
of the funniest events of the week. Besides the muscular release, there is a
subtle cognitive shift , as many of the stories relate to situations that were previously perceived as stressful.

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