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You Gotta Laugh: Healing stress with humour

By Susan Stewart, NLOWE's 2019 Conference Closing Plenary Speaker

Being a comedian, I’m always trying to see the lighter side of life. As I see it, a sense of humour is crucial because adversity is constant and things rarely go according to plan. I mean, let’s admit it, life is no fairy tale—if you lose your shoe at midnight, that just means you’re drunk.

Yeah, you gotta laugh. To clarify, you don’t gotta laugh, it’s just that you always can—it’s always an option—that’s the freedom of choice that you are born with. You can always choose how you want to perceive, interpret, and respond to your circumstances. This choice that you make is important because while you may blame your stress on your circumstances (because let’s admit it, it’s no fun taking responsibility for one’s misery), the truth is, stress is a result of how you respond to your circumstances. The rather inconvenient truth is that you endure far more stress from what you tell yourself and believe about adversity that from adversity itself.

To further clarify, you don’t gotta laugh, it’s just that you always can, and your stress level will be much lower if you do.

Despite having this freedom of choice, I know how easy it is to (unintentionally) choose a response that ends up resulting in stress. I know how easy it is to get drawn into those worries and catastrophic stories playing out in your head and to allow those negative thoughts to take over and tip you into that downward spiral. Stress is a common experience because in all of life’s challenges, stressful thoughts are easily created. I don’t know about you, but I have thought about running away way more as an adult than I did as a kid.

Considering how easy it is to send yourself down into the rabbit hole, the good news is that laughter can change your trajectory and send you on an upward spiral rather quickly. Laughter releases tension and triggers what’s called the “relaxation response,” which is the opposite of the “stress response.” During the “relaxation response,” endorphins are released that provide you with a calm, chilled-out feeling—a really cheap high. Science has proven that anytime you laugh or smile, your body releases those good-feeling chemicals into your bloodstream that are normally expensive and highly illegal.

The “relaxation response” not only lowers your stress level; it also changes your mind. As you start to feel more relaxed, your outlook follows suit—things don’t appear as bad or big as they once did—essentially, you lighten up. When stress sets in, I know the common urge to heal the stress is to fix things; however, don’t underestimate how healing it is to engage in “mood boosters”—things that lift your spirits and therefore improve your outlook. Your level of resiliency is profoundly affected by your willingness to recharge by doing things that bring you joy.

Along with making time for “mood boosters,” what can also contribute to a relaxed outlook and mindset is being mindful of what you are consuming. Your diet doesn’t only consist of what you eat; it also consists of what you watch, read, listen to, and the people with whom you surround yourself. Are the things that you consume giving you energy? When you’re facing adversity, that’s an important time to find the funny—read a funny book, watch a funny television show or movie, or spend time with people who make you laugh. I recently read an article online and I learned that there are female penguins who trade sex for nice rocks.

The next time you’re stressed out, just remember hooker penguins exist. Now that’s funny.


Comedian Susan Stewart blends the wit and wisdom she’s known for with powerful messages about not taking life too seriously – especially in times of adversity and uncertainty.

In her stand-up comedy style, Susan shares ways to see the lighter side of life leaving everyone more uplifted and inspired to meet their challenges with a positive outlook, and of course, a sense of humour.

Susan is the author of Reaching The Laugh Resort: Why The Journey To Remembering Who You (Really) Are

Is Worth The Jet Lag, Your New Lenses Are Ready For Pick Up: A Guide To Seeing The Lighter Side Of Life,

and You Gotta Laugh: Wit And Wisdom About Not Taking Life (Or Yourself) Too Seriously.

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