Stressed out? You're not alone. According to recent statistics more than one-third of adults reported an increase in stress last year; stats aren't yet in for the stress the pandemic wrought, but anybody can tell you it's been whopper sized. Job pressures, financial difficulties, caregiving and more take their toll on parents, especially women — 70 percent of U.S. moms say mothering is incredibly stressful.
Stress impacts the body in many ways and yields headaches, high blood pressure, irritability, appetite changes, sleep disturbances and low energy. Over time, stress can weaken your immune system.
"Once a person feels overwhelmed and helpless — when symptoms are affecting work, daily activities and relationships — it may be time to seek professional help," says Jennifer Ferrell-Hanington, a licensed psychologist.
If you feel you may need therapy, getting started may take a little time and your doctor's referral. So what can help in the meantime? Laughter. And that's no joke.
Research Bears It Out
Even though it sounds trite in the face of all that mothering is, laughter is the best medicine.
A 2010 study published in Alternative Therapies, "The Therapeutic Value of Laughter in Medicine," found that laughter shows physiological, psychological, social, spiritual and quality of life benefits. Laughter is also a powerful endorphin releaser in social situations (think about the pleasure of a big group laugh), according to research published in a 2018 study in The Journal of Neuroscience. Laughing with others releases endorphins in the brain through opioid receptors. The more of these receptors a person has, the more powerful the effect.
Maybe one of the most striking benefits of laughing is that research shows it actually protects your heart. According to work conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center, laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect that protects blood vessels and heart muscles from damaging effects of cardiovascular disease. The truth is, regular, hearty laughter is good for everyone.
Even if something's got you down enough not to feel like laughing, a major antidote to stress is to literally seek out ways to laugh.
Bring a little laughter into your home by exploring yuk yuks on purpose. Discover funny gems on YouTube (be sure you check them out before sitting down together with the kids). Some of the popular funny family-friendly YouTube channels of 2021 include:
Other ways of purposefully finding ways to laugh include spending more time enjoying your kids and pets; people watching; not taking anything too seriously; acting like a kid again and not taking everything so seriously — even when it's serious.
The American Psychological Association says stressed people often hold a lot of tension in their faces. Laughs, smiles and giggles can help relieve some of that tension. So when is the last time you belted out a good, long belly laugh with your kids? Here are more ways to bring a little more fun into your life to curb stress and create fun family memories:
• Be spontaneous: Change up routines that bog you down. Do things differently and aim for fun.
• Find a tribe: Or a support group. Or more friends. Moms devote so much time to families they can often short shrift their social needs. Know that relationships help reduce stress and restore balance.
• Get more spiritual: Moms are constantly told to eat right, exercise more, make good friends. They aren't often told to seek spirituality, but a lot of stress relief is there. Spirituality helps relieve stress and benefits overall mental health. It can help you feel a sense of purpose; connect to the world; release control; expand your network; lead a healthier life and more. Try prayer, meditation, mindfulness. Keep a journal to help express your feelings and more. Staying connected to your spirituality can enhance your quality of life both mentally and physically. In the book The SuperStress Solution, author Roberta Lee M.D. devotes a huge section to the topic of spirituality and prayer.
"Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual use their spirituality to cope with life. They're better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and wellbeing. On an intellectual level, spirituality connects you to the world, which in turn enables you to stop trying to control things all by yourself. When you feel part of a greater whole, it's easy to understand that you aren't responsible for everything that happens in life."
Keep working on defeating the stressors in life — you CAN do it and have a more full, enjoyable experience.