Wisdom Magazine's Monthly Webzine Skip Navigation Links
Wisdom Magazine, a bi-monthly compendium of information and resources related to holistic health, spirituality and metaphysics, is the largest free holistic publication serving New England with 50,000 copies printed and distributed to over 2,000 locations throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Home  About  This Month's Articles  Calendar of Events  Classified Listings  Holistic Resource Directory
 Educational Programs  Sacred Journeys & Retreats  Reiki Healing
 Article Archives  What's New in Books, CD's & DVD's  Wisdom Marketplace
 Where to Find Wisdom Near You  Subscriptions  Web Partner Links
 Advertising Information  Contact Us
Denali Institute of Northern Traditions
Ellie Pechet
Margaret Ann Lembo
Wisdom Magazine
Bach Flower Education
Wisdom Magazine
Circles of Wisdom
Light Healing
Wisdom Magazine
Alternatives For Healing

Excerpt from Relax - You May Only Have A Few Minutes Left

Using the Power of Humor to Overcome Stress in Your Life and Work

by Loretta LaRoche

The following excerpt is taken from the book Relax – You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left, by Loretta LaRoche. It is published by Hay House (February 1, 2008) and available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com

Chapter One

Four Hundred Times a Day


ecently I stayed with a friend who had three children, ages two, five, and seven. At breakfast, she took out six different boxes of cereal and began the following litany, first addressing the two-year-old: “Do you want fruit doodles, oat squares, shredded wheat, captain crackles, Trix or Cheerios? I can put a banana, apple, orange, kiwi, or pineapple on top. I can cut them in halves, thirds, quarters, or mash them. You can have it in a bowl, a soup tureen, a trough, or the dog’s dish. Would you like to eat it in your room, at the kitchen table, under the chair, or outside in the bird bath?”

This entire speech took about fifteen minutes. During the presentation, the child squirmed, drifted off into a dazed stare, and left the room once or twice. Finally she looked up at her mother and said, “I want a marshmallow.” Whereby the mother, confronted with a choice she hadn’t expected, began to explain how sorry she was for not having thought about buying marshmallows, and how she was a bad mommy for neglecting to do this. Meanwhile, the other two kids were beating the hell out of each other.

As a child, when I was told it was time for breakfast, I would sit down at the table and eat whatever was placed in front of me. It was oatmeal, an egg that seemed to have a life of its own, or toast, fruit, and milk. My mother was the decision maker. If I started arguing with her, saying I couldn’t stand the egg, or “Jessica (my friend down the street) gets peanut butter on toast for breakfast,” she’d go into her Sicilian warrior stance. She’d put her hand sideways into her mouth and bite down. This was not a pretty picture. Then she’d growl, “I’ll give you what Jessica eats for breakfast.” End of discussion. A Sicilian woman biting herself would make George Foreman drop to his knees and beg for mercy.

With all the choices we offer our children today, we’re squelching their little spirits. What child really wants six selections of cereal for breakfast? She’d probably enjoy anything you gave her because she’s able to be in the moment-something most of us have long forgotten about in our attempt to get things over with.

In addition to being in the moment, children are also prolific at laughter. Stanford professor of psychiatry Dr. William Fry has found that a five-year-old child laughs more than four hundred times a day. But by the time people are adults, that total shrivels to fourteen times daily-or less. What happens is that as children grow up, they are told to “get serious.” The result is that most adults suffer from terminal seriousness.

How sad it is to realize that the silly and fun in us comes out rarely, and that children who hear an adult tell them to stop behaving foolishly receive many a mixed message. Then they watch that same person behave the same way, only after having a few drinks!

Now, I’m not saying you’re going to march around like a wound-up happy doll. This denies our ability to react to different situations with a variety of emotions. But if you don’t have to suffer, don’t practice! There’s plenty of suffering to go around, and we will all get our share.

Drop the Change

One of the most widely sold drugs in the U.S. is laxatives. Is this merely a result of our not eating enough fiber, or does a constipated mind have the same consequences? Many of us have become terminally serious or, more to the point, anal retentive. This is a condition that makes us look like we’re holding quarters between our cheeks. Some people even look like they’re holding dimes. The end result of this condition is that even if we wanted to let out a good laugh, we couldn’t, because we can’t squeeze and laugh at the same time. Children belly-laugh because they haven’t started squeezing yet.

In every seminar I do, I ask people to go through a belly laugh with me, to remind them what it feels like to really let go. I take them through the facial expressions; I tell them to open their eyes wide, to lift their eyebrows, grab hold of their bellies (whichever section they like best), and on the count of three, to let fly a HA-HA-HA, which we do for thirty seconds.

When I announce that we’re going to do this, the moans and groans that escape most people’s lips would make outsiders listening in think these folks are about to be punished. Some people actually note the time before they start, to make sure they get it right-a sure sign of anal retention. Many people look around to see if anyone else is doing it, because, after all, there are reporters from major publications present who, lacking anything else of interest to report, are there to focus on them and the fact that they might be acting silly. (The word “silly,” by the way, comes from the ancient English word “selig,” which means “to be blessed.” Many a pompous court was lightened up by the court jester, who was the blessed fool.)

Several times I’ve had the opportunity to do this exercise with children. One incident in particular has stuck with me. My grandson Tyler, who lives outside of Atlanta, asked me to visit his third-grade class and tell them what I do for a living. After I did, I asked them to try the belly laugh for thirty seconds. Immediately they started shouting, “We can do that for an hour!” Their unbridled laughter filled the room. They grabbed their stomachs without any coaching from me, and many of them literally doubled over or fell on the floor, completely capturing the moment. The more they laughed, the more they laughed.

However, it took only a minute or so before the teacher began to look worried. Before long she started saying, “Now, boys and girls, we need to calm down and control ourselves.” Although I realize the need for control in the classroom and beyond is a necessary part of a civilized society, there is also the need to release and let go. Many adults say their faces hurt after they leave my workshops, or that their stomachs are killing them. Perhaps many of us are control freaks because we have been told so many times to control ourselves that even the thought of a few minutes of enjoyment can literally cause us pain.

Why is laughter causing us physical pain? I’ve never seen a group of four-year-olds who were giggling like mad stop so they could report to some adult that their faces hurt and they just couldn’t take any more. Our faces hurt because the muscles that help us laugh are out of shape.

The Joy of Stress

One of the tenets of Buddhism states that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. And in the theater, tragedy and comedy are always interconnected. So it makes sense that we should be able to turn a negative situation into a positive one if we are able to look at it differently, realizing that we can draw humor or gain valuable insights from something that initially appears to be annoying, sad, or even devastating.

What’s so joyful about stress? What’s so joyful about being in the grocery store line behind a lady who has one hundred coupons so she can get twenty cents off a loaf of bread? About kids who miss the school bus every morning, so you can drive them? About living with someone who won’t read their relationship dictionary? Each of us has the power to decide how to interpret stressful events: with humor, with wisdom, with compassion, or with the willingness to accept the situation for what it is.

Since stress is an essential part of life, we’re all going to worry to some extent-whether it’s about aging, making our mortgage payments, or downsizing. But you can determine how much you let stress take over and how much you control it. Right now I want to debunk some myths about stress.

— Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody. Stress is different for each of us. What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another person. For instance, having people over for dinner is stressful for some of us, but for others, it’s relaxing and fun.

— Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you. This is wrong also. Stress is to life what tension is to the violin string too little, and the music is dull and raspy; too much, and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life. The issue is how to manage it.

— Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it. Not so. You can do something about it, including taking a humorous approach to lighten the burden and give you the perspective to make rational plans to deal with stress.

— Myth 4: No symptoms, no stress. Don’t be fooled. An absence of symptoms doesn’t mean an absence of stress. In fact, camouflaging symptoms with medication may deprive people of the signals they need to reduce their stress.

— Myth 5: Only major symptoms of stress require attention. “Minor” symptoms, such as headaches, backaches, or heartburn, should not be ignored. They are early warnings that your life is getting out of hand.

Realize that stress and worry are a part of life, but don’t become such a worrier that it keeps you from enjoying yourself. A lack of humor in your life can lead to depression. Then you’re not laughing at all, and they take you away and put you in rehab. Then you get into group therapy, where you color and make baskets. When you can laugh again, they send you home.

The Body-Whine Connection

My belief in the power of humor and joyful living to relieve stress is based not only on these centuries-old notions but on cutting-edge science. In recent years, researchers have shown that laughter positively affects the body in a number of ways:

• The body temperature rises, making you feel warmer.

• The pulse and blood pressure drop.

• Muscles contract, then relax as you laugh.

• Breathing becomes deeper.

• Serum oxygen levels are elevated, which benefits the cardiovascular system, heightens energy levels, and reduces tension.

Laughter also boosts your immune system. It activates T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, both of which help destroy invading microorganisms. In addition, laughter increases the production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon and speeds up the production of new immune cells. And it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken the immune system. It appears that when we laugh, we release endorphins, which are chemical cousins to the opiates heroin and morphine, natural painkillers.

And a robust laugh gives your diaphragm, thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs, and maybe even the liver a good workout. Dr. Fry discovered that laughing for ten minutes is similar to rowing on a rowing machine one hundred times. Your muscles tighten and relax, and thereby grow stronger. Thanks to a pulmonary cardiac reflex, your pulse can double from, say, 60 to 120. Laughing is aerobic; laughing with gusto turns your body into a big vibrator and performs an internal massage. This could be safe sex at its best!

As with sex, this arousal leaves you more relaxed. Your skin is more sensitive; your muscles, having been exercised, have gone slack with rest. Tears of laughter have left your eyes glistening, and your cortisol level has been reduced, thereby strengthening your immune system. You may even laugh so hard you wet your pants-a sure sign of letting go.

A good paradigm shift is if we can realize that the moment we’re living in is the only moment there is. We can shout to the rooftops “I’m glad to be alive!” Maybe things in the universe would change if we all went in to work and said this. Being in the moment gives you the ability to handle life’s imperfections. Hey, this is what exists-it’s not such a big deal.

We need to adopt a philosophy of living a joyous life every day. This is the best buffer against stress that I know of. Most people compartmentalize enjoyment, reserving it for weekends, birthdays, or holidays. I believe that you should live life os if you have only a few minutes left. The hats, horns, confetti, and champagne that you save for New Year’s Eve should be at your side every day. Revel in the accomplishments you achieve and in the kindnesses you receive. Celebrate the moments, hours, and minutes of your existence. As you do, you’ll leave behind a life filled with “Oh, nos” and awake to one overflowing with “Ah-has!”

The Committee

Most people never realize that even when they’re alone, they have a group traveling with them. I call it the Committee. The Committee was in full attendance when Bob and I battled it out on our way to the beach. This group consists of your parents, other family members, children, and others who have meant something to you in your life-teachers, coaches, ex-lovers, and former spouses, for instance.

Committee members provided you with powerful messages about yourself and the world. Some messages are positive, rational and protective: Don’t put your hand on the stove; look both ways before you cross the street; get dressed before you leave the house; hard work is the key to success. Other messages are negative, irrational, and hurtful: Make your bed every day; wear clean underwear because you never know when you’ll be in an accident; you don’t deserve affection unless you get straight A’s in school. If you consider that we hear almost 350,000 “nos” by the time we reach the age of three, is it any wonder that we turn out to be negative?

If you continue to believe these negative messages when you grow up, you’ll live a life filled with stress because you’ll think in a rigid and unreflective manner. Do you really feel that if you don’t make your bed, bed-checkers will show up and report you? If you are in an accident, is your underwear going to stay clean anyway? And how many people actually do get straight A’s? Are the rest of us unlovable because we failed to do these things?

The Committee blares out many other messages throughout your childhood, such as:

• Clean your room, and then you can play. (What a treat. Why can’t we clean and play at the same time?)

• Don’t leave any dishes in the sink. (Take them with you-then no one will find them.)

• Wipe that stupid grin off your face. (Is there a smart grin?)

• When are you going to grow up? (Hopefully, never.)

• If only you were more like your sister, you wouldn’t do that. (Too bad, I’m me. Aren’t I lucky?)

Usually there is one individual who issues the Committee’s “annual report” and announces new areas for criticism. In my case, it was my mother.

My Mother, the CEO

I was born in Brooklyn, into a big Italian family. The head of my Committee, its CEO, CFO, and lifetime board member, is my mother. Admittedly, my mom had a lot to deal with; she was divorced when I was seven, and after that I became the driving force in her life. She wanted me to turn out well and succeed, so she could be proud of me.

Her main message throughout my childhood was that I needed to behave perfectly. Whenever my mother wanted me to clean my room or get better grades, she would always add, “You never know.” She never finished the sentence, but the admonishment worked because it induced fear. She planted doubt in my mind: “If I don’t do what she wants, maybe something bad will happen.” You had to make your bed, or she’d say, “You never know.” What if someone stops by and looks into your bedroom? What if the bed-checkers come over? And you had to wear clean underwear, in case you were in an accident.

Another of my mother’s great messages is saving for a rainy day. This continues even until now. Growing up, no one could sit at the table and use the good dishes. We ate off the chipped china and drank out of jelly glasses. Only people we didn’t know could use the good china. We don’t know who you are, but you can use the good dishes! Now that my mother is eighty-six, she says she’s saving them for me. But I’m now fifty-seven, and as time goes by, the chances of me being able to see the pattern are going from slim to none.

This attitude carries through into other areas. When I visit, she always tells me not to sit in the living room because she just cleaned it. No problem, I’ll just sit in the filthy room. As a kid, I had a pair of underpants my mother didn’t let me wear because they were too good. My mother called them my “party pants.” I still have them-they just don’t fit anymore.

Like my mother, millions of people have deluded themselves into thinking that they have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy their lives. Have you ever been to a funeral where people are talking about how fabulous the deceased looks? That’s because somebody finally went to her closet, got her good outfit, and put it on her, including her party pants. Then all her friends went back to her house to eat off the good dishes and sit in her clean living room. At last, a special occasion!


Trustees on my Committee include nuns from my Catholic schools and my grandfather and grandmother.

The nuns did give me a good education, but many of their messages filled me with guilt. I often heard as a child, “That will go on your permanent record.” The permanent record always contained your misdeeds, never your accomplishments. The implication was clear-at least to me. Someone knows the bad things you’ve done, and he’s saving it until the end of time, and beyond.

Another trustee, my grandmother Francesca, added in the need to suffer. Francesca walked around heaving huge Sicilian sighs of despair, sweeping her hand up to her forehead, uttering phrases of doom and gloom with a great deal of drama. She wore black every day in case somebody died. Joy, she felt, was irresponsible. Her goal was to report all the misery in her life. Favorites were the weather (it was never right); buying food (they were trying to rob her); relatives (the years of shame her mother caused by marrying a younger man). Francesca believed we’re guaranteed a place in heaven if we go around feeling like hell. My grandmother wanted us to think she never enjoyed herself. So she ate sparingly and complained about her frequent bouts of insomnia with the dramatic flair of an Academy Award winner.

There was, however, a flip side to my childhood-just as in most people’s childhoods. Everyone was always hugging, yelling, and cooking-not necessarily in that order. If we weren’t eating, we were planning what we’d eat next. There was a passion for life and a raucous humor, and my family adjusted to daily calamities with courage, strength, and resiliency. They had tremendous endurance and an unwillingness to be pitied. There were tragedies, obstacles to be overcome, complaints both real and imagined, but there was always laughter. It filtered in and out of our lives, gave us a sense of control over situations, and provided a feeling of hope that things would work out.

My grandfather Lorenzo was a master at reversing stressful situations and an optimist to boot-even though Francesca wouldn’t allow much happiness. He had lost an arm prior to my birth, but he didn’t seem to notice. Lorenzo would often approach people who were having a problem opening a door or picking up a bundle and offer his services. “Let me do that for you,” he would say. They would be delighted. He would later tell me they had problems because they had two arms. Lorenzo’s mission statement about life was simple: Live and let live, laugh at yourself and the predicaments you’ve gotten yourself into, and have a glass of wine and a plate of spaghetti every day.

Although times were tough and food scarce, my grandfather would always put a positive spin on everything. “Tonight we are having lamb stew without the lamb,” he would announce. Lorenzo would then pick up his glass of wine and toast the yet uncooked food. Francesca would say “Your eyes are going to get very small from drinking that wine.”

The glue of life is loving support from our family and our community, and this is missing from a lot of our lives today. Studies have shown that living with extended family increases longevity. These aged aunts, uncles, and grandparents never ate low-fat food or exercised, and they lived into their upper eighties. How many of us live with extended family today? We don’t even live in the same towns any more. Now most of us get out of our parents’ homes and want to be alone-we want to have our “space.”

When is the last time someone brought you a cake, just because you moved into the neighborhood? If they did, you’d probably cut it open to see if there was a razor blade buried in it. We’ve lost our sense of community today. We don’t even know the owners of the places we shop in.

Back when I was growing up, when we went food shopping, we knew everyone. When we went to the cheese shop, they gave us cheese to taste. No one gives you cheese today because someone from the Cheese Alert Squad would report it. I’d go with Francesca to the chicken lady. She looked like she was related to her chickens. Francesca would look into the chicken’s eyes, and touch it and squeeze it. She wouldn’t take it home until she’d fondled it. Nowadays, you go into a store, and it’s just a corpse in a Styrofoam coffin.

Today you can’t even enjoy your food. There’s always someone from the low-fat police at your table. “How many grams do you think are in that? Your cholesterol’s going to go up!” We need to enjoy our food as a pleasure. Low-fat food isn’t healthful if I get pissed off while I’m eating it. I’ll discuss this more later, but having pleasure does make your immune system better.

Keep It Simple

Despite all the yelling, hugging, and cooking, our house used to be quiet at times. Now it’s always the phone or the answering machine. People get home and head right for the machine. “Do I have a message? I hope I have a message!” We hope we have a message so we won’t feel insignificant: “I’m such a pompous ass, I need to talk to everybody.”

Back then my grandparents had very simple conversations. “Wanna go to bed?” “Sure.” “Wanna eat something?” “Sure, why not?” My grandmother had five kids, and I don’t think she even knew where they came from. Now you’re supposed to coach the other person about sex. We’ve gone over the edge; we don’t take anything-even sex-at face value any more.

Growing up, music used to lift our spirits. We used to listen to classical music and show tunes, with great lyrics and melodies. Now people listen to music that I’m sure has been recorded in the depths of hell. And it’s a proven fact that noise pollution can stress you out.

Unfortunately, all these changes in our society have reinforced the trend toward negativity. We know that the mind seems to retain more of the negative comments it receives than the positive ones. I believe much of this comes from a societal belief that you ward off pain and unhappiness by hedging your bets with a good dose of negative affirmations. For instance, my husband, Bob, is always worried about Them. He comes from a conservative New England family that is concerned about what others say and think. He can never understand how I can talk to perfect strangers when I’m standing in lines, or how I could possibly go out to get the newspaper in my bathrobe.

Since I’m always trying to fix or cure everyone, I periodically try to dislodge Them from Bob’s Committee. Several months ago I watched my granddaughter Erika dance naked in high heels in her living room. I thought, Now, this is something I should try. So one night I greeted Bob at the door wearing nothing but his wing-tipped shoes. I was laughing hysterically about how I looked. Bob didn’t crack a smile. Instead, he bellowed, “What are the neighbors going to think?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I haven’t shown them yet.”

Get Off the Bus

People spend years in analysis, trying to identify and find rational ways to handle their Committees. I’ve been very fortunate in that the humor I inherited helps me break through the irrational thoughts that come with the Committee’s messages. Much of what I thought was absolute, I now find absurd. This gives me peace of mind, more time to pursue pleasure, and less inclination to be on anyone else’s Committee. I’d like to share one of my favorite ways of helping people free themselves from their Committees:

Imagine that your mind is like a big bus. Put on board everyone from your Committee and take them for a ride: your parents, your aunt, your third-grade teacher, your basketball coach, your minister. Look in the mirror in the morning and say, “I’m driving the bus! I don’t think I’ll wear underpants today, and I’m not making my bed either!”

You are the only one who can make yourself happy. The responsibility is up to you. I learned this late in life, and the power I have gained from that bit of wisdom is phenomenal. For example, I love it when my husband comes home for dinner-and I love it when he doesn’t. Either way, I enjoy myself. As long as I show up, I’ll have fun!

Stinking Thinking

Much of our stress and emotional suffering comes from the way we think. I’m a master of this; I can drive myself nuts in two minutes. The thoughts that cause us stress are usually negative, unrealistic, and distorted. They’re knee-jerk automatic responses that just pop out. You’re in the parking lot-aha! They took all the spaces! It’s a plot; we think that people get up before we do, go to the parking lot, and put their cars in our spaces.

Let’s say you go to the movies. You’ve got to get the right seat with no one in front of you. People come in and they’re also looking for the right seat. They sit in front of you, and one has a big head. You start to think, “Oh, no! Oh, my God, not again. Why me? Why do I always get the people with big heads? This always happens to me! Now I won’t see a thing. My whole night is ruined!” You took a simple thing and distorted it in your mind, and ruined the whole night for yourself. The thought that you could move, or accept the situation, thereby solving the problem, doesn’t even enter your head. It always fascinates me that we would rather make things worse than make them better.

Even though I lecture, write, and read everything on relieving stress that I can get my hands on, I still periodically get sucked into my nutty putty mentality. It usually happens when I’m in a rush and haven’t prepared adequately in advance. Recently I had to tape a program for a client, and was told to arrive at 9:30 A.M. I had time the night before to get my clothing ready, but oh no, I decided to get up early and do it then. I had, however, made up my mind about what I was going to wear. And you know how that is. You have made a decision that is set in stone. Not even a petition from the Pope could change it.

Eventually I did find the suit, but then it came time to find the shoes. The bottom of my closet would make a snake pit appear charming. I began searching calmly, but with each passing minute I began to exhibit telltale signs that a bloodbath was about to ensue. Shoes started flying as I desperately searched for the right pair. I was rewarded at last, but there was only one. “I knew it,” I shouted, “it’s gone!” Of course, I added, “Someone took it!” Meanwhile, my time of departure was getting closer, but I was on a mission that was similar to finding the Holy Grail. I would find that shoe! Nothing else mattered at this point.

It also became important to find out who took the shoe. Now, there’s no one else living at my house except my husband and me, so guess what? It had to be him-he took it. Did it ever occur to me while I was in this complete state of frenzy that a six-foot-three man with a size-twelve shoe would not only not fit into a size-seven pump, but that what in God’s name would he want with one shoe with a stacked heel? It didn’t even match any of his suits. I was finally saved by the absurd image that came to me of my husband trying to get the shoe on. I shared this story with several people who could all relate. It’s amazing how many of us are doing the same things and how upset we make ourselves.

Millions of people rush home every night to watch their favorite sitcoms, either to get relief from feeling overwhelmed or perhaps just to get a dose of the giggles. But, as I said earlier, you don’t need the television set. You’re only a thought away from starring in your own sitcom. All you have to do is tap into the internal dialogue that runs through your mind every day. It is filled with irrational statements, the mother lode of comedy.

The psychological terminology for these irrational statements is cognitive distortions. In their twelve-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous calls it “stinking thinking.” If you’re in therapy or you’re taking a course in stress management, a great deal of emphasis is placed on how you think.

This sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But how many of us really understand this principle-that your thoughts create your feelings, and your feelings create your behavior? Just to test this theory, try throwing your arms up in the air, jumping up and down and yelling “I’m depressed!” It just doesn’t work.

Whether you’re feeling angry, sad, or happy, your mind is conducting the outcome. You’re an orchestra of chemical responses that plays the same tune over and over again. How many people commute to work acting as if they are playing The 1812 Overture? Have you ever noticed how some people drive? Some folks drive in a happy way-“Whew! I got there.” These people want to live. Some people have to say something about the traffic. “Damn it! Jackasses! Where did they get their licenses from? Where did all these cars come from?” This thought is totally irrational. So is the behavior that usually follows: a string of expletives, clenched fingers on the wheel, and eyes nearly popping out of their heads. Aside from their looking like Looney Tunes characters, there’s a serious misunderstanding of reality going on here.

Fight or Flight

Almost every day we blow things out of proportion and put the most negative spin on events in our lives. Too much “catastrophizing” and “awfulizing” triggers a physiological response called “fight or flight,” the engine that drives much of our stress. Walter B. Cannon, a psychiatrist at Harvard at the turn of the century, described the fight-or-flight response as a series of biochemical changes that prepare us to deal with threats. This was a great idea about a million years ago, when people had to defend themselves against Saber-toothed Tigers or Wooly Behemoths. However, flash forward to shortly before the end of the twentieth century and to any major highway. You’re in your car in a traffic jam and you’re yelling at people who can’t hear you. You are using a response that is no longer useful.

Since the body doesn’t know whether it’s in a cave or in a car, it responds to what it thinks are your cries for help. Your eyes get narrow to see farther, and your hearing gets more acute in case the animal leaves its vehicle. Your heart rate, blood volume, and blood pressure all go up. You start to perspire. Your hands and feet get cold as blood is directed away from your extremities and digestive system into larger muscles that help you to fight or run. Your diaphragm and anus lock. Nature is very wise: It prepares you just in case you’re going to scare the living crap out of yourself.

In your car, you reach for your “spear”-usually your middle finger or a choice obscenity. In front of you is a seventy-eight-year-old woman in a Buick. She’s enjoying her day, driving slowly, because wisdom has taught her that at her age, what’s the rush? She doesn’t realize that in back of her is a raving Neanderthal who perceives her to be a Behemoth.

How many times a day do you get ready to throw a “spear”? How many minutes, hours, or days of your life are you uttering dialogue appropriate for battle rather than for a Xerox machine that won’t work, a line that’s too long, a haircut that came out too short, or a child who won’t listen? Virtually anything can trigger the fight-or-flight response if you interpret the situation as harmful or threatening.

Life becomes unbearably stressful when you make faulty conclusions about your world. It is your interpretations about experiences that create anxiety, anger, and depression. When you decide that a wet towel left on a bed is an offense similar to a mugging, you are creating a stormy emotional climate for yourself, one that will lead to enormous stress in your life. Chronically enacting the fight-or-flight response can hurt you physically and emotionally a great deal, affecting virtually every part of your body.

As I said earlier, one of the most dangerous by-products of stress in the body is cortisol. A host of dangerous situations can arise if your body is producing cortisol continually because of your reactions to stress, problems such as a debilitated immune system, blood clots, or a heart attack or stroke.

Some of us have illnesses that we don’t realize are stress related. Headaches aren’t a normal part of life. It’s not as if you were born with a headache. You start getting headaches because the vessels around your head begin squeezing. Often people hold tension in the neck and back, creating stiffness there and culminating in a thundering headache. In fact, many people think having headaches and backaches is normal, and without them, they wouldn’t be accomplishing much. People even compare their aches and pains: “I’ve had a headache all day!” “I’ve had five headaches!” “Good, you win. You get a bottle of Advil and a trip to the neurologist.”

Several years ago, when I was going through my divorce, I came down with a host of physical problems. I woke up one morning with a full-blown case of bursitis of the hip; I actually couldn’t move one leg away from the other. I also had horrible insomnia. My symptoms didn’t let up until a year after my divorce was over, and at that point it became obvious that they were stress-related.

Many of us go to bed at night, and we just can’t let things go. A lot of times we lie in bed reviewing. We should be able to think about something once, and that’s it. But the mind doesn’t know when to shut up, does it? There’s a yakety-yak effect going on in our heads all day; researchers say that 60,000 thoughts pass through the average person’s brain daily. If you don’t know how to shut them off, you’re going to experience the fight-or-flight reaction when you’re trying to go to sleep.

If stress continues with no relief, it can even kill us. A 60 Minutes program showed that many Japanese employees actually were dropping dead at their desks from working sixteen-hour days, day in and day out. We Americans push ourselves too hard at work too. What we all need to understand is that if something happens to you, you will be replaced at your company. The office will open the next day without you. Someone else will take your job, and you’ll be in the cemetery while they’re sitting in your seat at meetings. How many funerals have you been to where people are discussing how many times the dead person worked late at the office?

It’s amazing to me that most doctors don’t even consider the manifestations of stress. They never ask, “What’s your life like? How do you feel about your work? How do you feel about your marriage? Are you eating properly, are you exercising?” All they ask is when you had the measles! That has a lot to do with the headache I have today, doesn’t it? And yet, according to a Harvard study, from 60 to 90 percent of office visits to primary care physicians are stress-related due to lifestyle.

Often we react to the stress we encounter with negative, self-defeating thoughts. Our stinking thinking comes from our need to support and sustain our self-esteem, as a result of messages we’ve gotten from our Committees. These negative thoughts habitually pop into our minds, uninvited, rather than as a result of reasoning.

We’ve inherited and continue to believe hundreds of cognitive distortions that leave us feeling crazed, humorless, and out of control. This lemming philosophy denies us the ability to question our Committee members, even though they may be dead or senile.

The root of these irrational thought patterns is exaggeration. Interestingly enough, this is also the root of humor. We laugh at many of our favorite comedians because they are able to observe our behavior and take it several steps beyond reality until we are able to make the connection and laugh at how truly ridiculous we are. It’s more difficult for us to laugh at ourselves because we’re invested on many levels in owning, awfulizing and being right.

Many of us are masters of comedy in our own right, but we just don’t get it. Some of the stuff that comes out of our lips is hysterical: “I have only two hands” (Do you know anyone with six or seven?); “I’m only human” (Well, that makes perfect sense if you’re talking to a cat!); “No one cares” (How sad, you’ve concluded that of the billion or so people who inhabit the planet, there isn’t one soul who cares about you. The years of researching this fact must have left you exhausted!). Most of our minds are truly a playground of absurdity.

In order to see the humor in anything, you must stand outside yourself in the position of a compassionate witness. From that position, you can create something uplifting out of the situation by seeing the incongruity and silliness in the plight of being human. You can realize that your distorted, irrational thoughts are exaggerations of misinterpreted reality, and you can turn crisis into triumph by laughing in its face. Not because the circumstances are funny, but because, with your conscious mind, you have chosen to see the humor in the situation.

Ta-Dah Today, Tomorrow May Be Too Late

Several years ago, while attending a conference on wellness, I was struck by the attitude of the participants. Most approached the sessions, which were focused on how to extend life, with grim earnestness and very little energy. In their relentless pursuit of a healthy, long life, they had forgotten the present.

One afternoon, a child of about three waltzed down the hotel corridor, twirled, lifted her arms, and yelled, “TA-DAH!”

Several adults stopped dead in their tracks. At that instant, I knew they had grasped the absurdity of the situation. The child knew what they had paid hundreds of dollars to find out: how to enjoy life in the moment.

A childlike TA-DAH! blesses the moment you’re in. It permits you to enjoy wherever you are and to realize, more often than not, that you choose to be there. If you fail to understand this reality, you are forever waiting “to be done” before you can have fun. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a tombstone that said “Did everything, died anyway.” The realization that we have already arrived, that we don’t have to travel any farther, that we are already here, can give us peace and joy.

There is even a scientific study that has concluded that throwing your arms up into the air can lift your spirits. A study by Dr. John Cacioppo, Ph.D., an Ohio State University psychologist, says it may have something to do with the fact that this upward motion is similar to bringing food to the mouth, an action we instinctively enjoy. The giddy, goofy desire to throw wide your arms and embrace life not only makes life worth living but may make it last longer. Perhaps euphoria is good for the body; perhaps joy is protective against the corrosive impact of stress, and joyful people may outlive their whining counterparts. There is even a yoga pose called Tadasana, which means “stand firm, with power and dignity, steadily and comfortably.” And “Todah” in Hebrew means “Thank you.”

There are endless possibilities to enjoy our existence. Life’s little pleasures too often disappear from our busy days. The absence of ordinary pleasures may take an even greater toll on our health than stress does. So take out the good dishes, go into the clean living room, and eat dessert in your party pants! I’ve come up with a list of ten TA-DAHs that can take you outside of yourself and heal your negative thoughts:

1. Trade frowns for smiles.

2. Talk to yourself in fun ways.

3. Touch someone else’s life.

4. Take time to listen to yourself.

5. Treat yourself to pleasure and passion.

6. Turn on your imagination.

7. Tidy up your life.

8. Tap into the universe of humor.

9. Try to be different.

10. Tolerate more, and give thanks often.

Ta-Dah Number One: Trade Frowns for Smiles

It’s so easy to frown, and there are so many things to frown at: a stack of bills, a child making noise in a restaurant, a colleague who comes into your office and chats as if you have nothing else to do. But when we take these frown makers and smile at them, a funny thing happens: Our annoyance at the problem tends to go away. The next time you’re tempted to frown at someone, grin instead. The person may be taken aback, and you’ll be surprised at how your attitude will follow the expression on your face.

Many women spend tons of money on products to enhance our looks and, in particular, our faces. Antiwrinkle creams abound with the magic promises of youth. Mascara, blush, and eye shadow are designed to give our faces a lift. However, have you ever considered the fact that the expression on your face has a lot more to do with having a pleasant exterior than any makeup or lack of wrinkles?

If you were to park your car on a busy street and observe people walking by, you would see an inordinate amount of stem faces, clenched jaws, and just plain grumpy looks. These uptight faces, in turn, create uptight bodies, which the mind translates into stress. As children, you had from eighteen to twenty facial expressions. By the time you became an adult, you were down to four. Since adulthood is supposed to be more serious and important than childhood, being too expressive may make us afraid of appearing foolish. As grown-ups we restrict foolishness, play, and happy faces for vacation or Friday through Sunday evenings.

Smiles, frowns, and grimaces were once seen simply as expressions of feelings. However, researchers now see the face as a body organ of its own. Increasingly, scientists are realizing that facial expressions precede feelings and play a role in generating them.

The “Facial Feedback” theory proposes that if you ask a person to smile, she soon begins to experience the pleasant feelings associated with that expression. How? When you smile, two things happen: You breathe through your nose, and you exert pressure on the veins in your face. When you breathe through your nose, you bring air into your nasal passages, which cools the veins and the blood flowing through them. And when you use the “smile muscles” at the corners of your mouth, you change the direction of the blood flow inside your face in such a way that it causes the temperature of the blood to drop. This cooler blood enters the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus and causes the release of chemicals that can suppress pain and help a person to feel better.

Cooling the blood may promote the release of endorphins, which, as we discussed earlier, suppress pain and give you a lift. In short, smiling instructs our brains to feel good.

The head of plastic surgery at a local hospital told me that as we age, our faces set into a mask. If this is true, it’s important to keep our facial muscles flexible by laughing. We need to change the looks on our faces. Kids make silly faces all the time; they’re experts at it. I like to make silly faces in elevators. People act like, “Don’t touch me, don’t come close!” I never face the same way they do; I smile at them and say, “Let’s hug!” What are they afraid of, the face police?

A pleasant smile can help you to have a relaxed mental state and a healthy body. Why not give it a try-start your day with a happy face. It’s free, unlike all that makeup, and you’re liable to get a wonderful reaction-someone might smile back.

Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile

at your children, smile at each other, it doesn’t matter who it

is, and

that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.

– Mother Teresa

In the following chapters, we’ll have fun together as we observe the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that create our inability to be more accepting, joyful, and present. And I hope by sharing many of my irrational behaviors that you will become more connected to yours and that we’ll be able to look through the lens of humor together. One of the most powerful assets a sense of humor provides us with is the ability to shift perspective and to be flexible. Remember that flexibility is the ability not to get bent out of shape.

*** ***

Add Comment

Article Archives  This Month's Articles  Click Here for more articles by Loretta LaRoche
Bach Flower Education
Wisdom Magazine
Light Healing
Circles of Wisdom
Wisdom Magazine
Alternatives For Healing
Wisdom Magazine
Ellie Pechet
Denali Institute
Margaret Ann Lembo

Call Us Toll Free: 888-577-8091 or  |  Email Us  | About Us  | Privacy Policy  | Site Map  | © 2021 Wisdom Magazine