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Laughter As Stress Buster

Research shows that laughter can strengthen the immune system, increase our tolerance to pain and even reduce stress and anxiety. As The Early Show continues its series Living Better Longer, find out more about humor as a stress buster.

Loretta La Roche is a stress management consultant and author of "Life Is Not A Stress Rehearsal." She says in the last 20 years, we have confused doing with being. Therefore, in order to feel accomplished and necessary, we need a whole list of to-dos. So we are becoming a nation of crazed and humorless individuals.

"I can only sort of relate to my own grandmother’s generation. They went to work, and they came home, and the times were separate. The workweek is not the workweek any more. Any leisure moments are not purely leisure. People are calling on their cell phones while lying on the beach," La Roche says.

So she recommends laughter as therapy. "When you are in a feel-good state, your endorphins rise up, creating a calming effect," she explains.

The following is La Roche’s advice for living longer through laughter and joy:

  1. Try to be in good humor as often as possible
    Civility is so lacking in our society. Try to be understanding, empathic and kind.
  2. Access your inner sitcom
    We train ourselves to stop taking ourselves so seriously. We need to find a couple of ways to cut the cord of the stress cycle. “I force myself to say things like ‘Oh well what can you do.’ Or ‘What's the point,’” says La Roche.

    It can also help if you take the scene that's playing out to its worst-case scenario. For example, “If the computer is down, you'd say ‘it could be off for a couple of hours, but then again, it might never come back and then the whole place will shut down and then I'll be out of a job and then I'll become a bum living on the street.’ We know that eventually the computer is coming back, but it's easier to see how ridiculous it is to worry about it, when we take it all the way to the worst case.”

  3. Find the bless in the mess
    Accept that some things are what they are and learn to see the opportunity in those things you can't change, says La Roche. “Many of us aren't going to be thin until we decide to lose weight. What good comes from beating ourselves up about it, if we aren't ready to make the changes we need to make?” she says, adding that researchers have found this kind of resiliency to be a trait of many centegenerians. When they get sick, or someone dies, they seem able to move on or bounce back more quickly than others.
  4. Develop a circle of upbeat people
    Socialization is the key to longevity. We don't really age well alone. You can't get rid of your relatives, but you can discover people and hang with people who are interesting and curious and want to adapt like you do. Avoid the other kinds of people who can be what she calls "emotional vampires." Nowadays, we don't have a good sense of community to begin with. We used to be able to drop in on neighbors and friends. Now everything is scheduled days in advance and so much of our time together with friends is spent complaining about how stressed we are.
  5. Borrow from children
    They are more spontaneous. They are more in the moment. Their mind set is to be curious and in awe of the world. They have "beginners' eyes." Things are approached with a sense of newness. La Roche advices people to twirl, particularly in the mist of a tense moment. “Twirling is gleeful. It shows that I am in a state of gleefulness and it works in a most profound way,” she says it helps to put things into perspective.
  6. Get in touch with your inner grandmother
    There was a practicality to the way her grandmother viewed the world. She had common sense and wisdom. But she did it without putting herself at the center of the universe. It's about being part of the universe. "Part of grand-motherhood is to remind children ‘who do you think you are?’ Instead, we live in a culture of entitlement that says, ‘Do you know who I am?’" says La Roche.
  7. Tune out your committee
    We are born with a pretty clean slate. We are wired to be who we are, but eventually we have other little voices that chime in. The committee includes parents, siblings, even, close friends. They give us our inner voices and these are the voices that are pushing us to be doers, to do things the way "they are suppose to be done," says La Roche.

    We need to synthesize and come up with a voice of reason for ourselves. She talks about putting all the members of your committee on an imaginary bus and putting yourself behind the driver's wheel and saying "I'm in charge here." And you have to be selective. Not all the voices are bad, we have learned many of our moral and ethical values from our committee. So La Roche advices to tune out the less important voices like, make your bed everyday and don't go out without clean underwear. These voices are always about some outer force that will be a witness to your incompetence and you will be shamed. These voices have so many of us walking around feeling bad about ourselves, La Roche says.

    How do you get your own voice? "You have to ask yourself what is it you want to be, what kind of value system you want to have, what do you support, and what's going to help manage your life in a relaxed peaceful manner. If your committee tells you make the bed, but you realize that leaving the bed unmade is going to allow you to take a walk in the morning or to sit and reflect, then don't make the bed," La Roche says.