Making Fun of Stress

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, implored his advisors, "Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do." 

It's no secret that all of us, military and civilian, are dealing with more stress than ever. Between work demands, deployments, covering for people on deployments, family needs, school, finances, personal issues and myriad little annoyances we face daily, there is rarely enough time to de-stress. The result is often a greater reliance on alcohol, risk taking, anger issues, depression and worse. 

Humor is one of the greatest stress releases we have. Laughter actually reduces the level of stress hormones and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones. It increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells. This means laughter builds a stronger immune system, as well as warding off the physical effects of stress. 

Laughter provides a physical and emotional release. Believe it or not, a good laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. It even provides a good workout for the heart. 

Yet, it wasn't very long ago that most people drew a sharp distinction between work and play. If you had fun, or were found joking, laughing, or showing a "playful attitude" on the job, it was assumed that you were goofing off, not taking your work seriously, immature and unprofessional. Now more and more successful executives and managers are finally beginning to see that humor is a powerful tool in meeting the challenges and stress that are now a daily way of life in every workplace. General Dwight Eisenhower noted, "A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done." 

A survey found employees with a sense of humor are more effective on the job, concluding that "People with a sense of humor tend to be more creative, less rigid and more willing to consider and embrace new ideas and methods." When people start to have more fun on their jobs, they become energized and more productive. When you improve your sense of humor and learn to make your job fun, you take a big step toward becoming one of those people. 

Humor is my favorite stress management strategy because it's free, convenient, and builds rapport and camaraderie. As one CEO of a major company put it,"Our role and responsibility as leaders and associates is to create a place where people can enjoy themselves. I know our company is doing well when I walk around and hear people laughing." 

We've all seen people who somehow manage to stay in good spirits on the days they're dealing with the same deadlines and work overload the rest of us are struggling with. I love "The Far Side" cartoon which shows two devils watching a funny looking guy smiling and whistling in the midst of the fire and brimstone. One devil says to the other, "You know, we're just not reaching that guy." 

Thomas Edison knew the value of making work fun. Toward the end of his life, he said, "I never did a day's work in my life -- it was all fun."