Anxious people very often take themselves and their dilemmas too seriously. Having a good laugh is not only a great way to lighten up, but also an excellent way of reducing stress. And it is, in effect, a whole-body workout. It gets your heart and lungs functioning at full tilt and relaxes the diaphragm, which, when you're anxious, spends a lot of time being hard and tense .
Get yourself a joke book
As well as getting you laughing for a moment, good jokes help break through black-and-white thinking, and open you up to different expectations. When you hear or read a funny story or a joke, you are already expecting the unexpected: a development you hadn't anticipated or a clever punch line. Momentarily, at least, you have shifted your mindset.
A funny thing happened ...
Remind yourself of 10 things that recently made you laugh or 10 of the funniest things that ever happened to you. Note them down, so that you can look at them to break the spell if you get into a trance of anxious thinking at a later date. Remembering funny experiences from the past is especially salutary because, very often, they weren't the least bit funny at the time. Maybe you locked yourself out of your home with no money or no clothes on. Or the washing machine had a seizure and the kitchen floor was flooded just when a prospective buyer came to view the house.
It is a good reminder that even apparent catastrophes aren't as overwhelming as they seem at the time - they can even be laughed about and savoured when put into perspective. And even if you don't find an anxious episode funny as yet, try running it through your mind in a form where the main characters (for instance the angry boss, the domineering mother-in-law) are cartoon or caricature versions of themselves. Or try that other well tested method of taking the negative power out of a bad memory of over-controlling individuals - imagine the main players naked.
Laugh five times a day
Apparently, on average, happy children laugh over 300 times a day but adults less than 20. So, set yourself the pleasant task of laughing at least five times a day. If you have been gloomy and morose, find your list of funny things and see if you can get a laugh out of them. Or deliberately recall times when you cried with laughter - chances are that that alone will set off your funny bone again! Alternatively, try watching a daft film or reading a book that makes you laugh. Or go for a walk and keep an eye out for something that will at least make you smile - the antics of dogs playing in the park, for instance, or something a young child says (such as the exchange a psychologist colleague of ours once had: "Are you Jack's mother?" "Yes" answered our colleague. "Oh!" said the little girl, her face brightening, "Do you know his brother Billy?" ) Again, the benefits exceed the amusement you may enjoy: looking out for everyday examples of the funnier side of life will keep you focused outward for a while, instead of inward.
A young princess had inexplicably lost the power to speak. She languished in her bed chamber, pale and distraught and barely able to eat. None of the court doctors could find what was wrong with her and the king and queen were at their wits' end. But one day she caught sight, from her window, of a young country fellow struggling down the road with a donkey on his shoulder. Now it turns out that this young lad was a bit of a simpleton. He had recently started his first job as a farmhand but had dropped the coins he was given as his day's wages. As a result his irate mother had told him he should have put them in his pocket. So, the next day, when he was given a vessel containing milk for his labours, he poured the milk in his pocket. "Ridiculous boy! You should have carried the vessel on your head!" screamed his mother. The next day, he was rewarded with cream cheese and duly put it on his head - and so on and so on, until the day after he had dragged a ham along the ground on a string and was told he should have hoisted it on to his shoulder. This next day, he had been given a donkey. When the princess saw the poor donkey braying and struggling and the young fellow staggering and scolding, the whole scene was so ludicrous that she burst out laughing. And her paralysing trance state was broken ...
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