The Key To Stress Relief

​The Key to Stress Relief    

​By Katie MacDougall, LPC

My mom’s cousins know how to have a good time.  When I’m around this side of my family, I’m always reminded how I tend to take things too seriously.
 
Tragedy: The Most Common Excuse for Seriousness
 
The excuse I often give for being too serious is that tragedy requires that kind of response.  The more I’ve sat with people in their deepest grief, the more I’ve realized that I don’t think that’s truly the case.  Let me use my mom’s cousins to explain why I think seriousness is overrated, especially in tragedy.

You see, the cousins I’m referring to haven’t had lives lacking loss or filled with perfection. I won’t go into a list of the struggles they’ve had because it would double this blog’s word count, but I will give an example of one of their most recent tragedies. One of my cousins lost a leg a few years ago in a horrific boating accident. Of course, there was (and sometimes still is) grief associated with that. However, there is still laughter. You can only imagine the conversation I heard happening at the first family gathering after my cousin lost her leg.  She and some of my other cousins realized that my legless cousin had a new-found Halloween costume opportunity.  After hours of laughing from all sides, I think they landed on a pirate with a peg leg for the following Halloween.  Despite big losses, the family was able to laugh.

A family gathering after losing a leg isn’t perfect. My cousin was still experiencing phantom pain and learning how to walk again.  Many surgeries were on the horizon along with many more moments of grief and loss.  Though tears, hugs, and talking through the pain was essential, laughter was a key ingredient to stress relief and eventual healing.
 
How to Laugh During Everyday Stress
 
While the story about my cousin’s tragedy may seem unrelatable, the feelings of being overwhelmed by change, tasks, and loss are universal.
 
In order to laugh during everyday stress, start by letting go of your expectations.  Here are a few examples:

  • ​Can you let it go when the kids decorate the walls with markers right before the guests arrive?
  • ​Can you laugh at the typo you sent in the email to your boss?
  • ​Can you laugh when your husband runs to the store and grabs the wrong brand of chocolate chips (or gets peanut butter chips instead)?
  • ​Can you let go of the mistake made that cost your company financially?
  • ​Can you chuckle when you burn the turkey and be okay with calling in a pizza?
  • ​Can you laugh when the dog licks a corner of the cake you just baked?

​Not quite there yet? Me either.  Join me in asking God to help you receive this gift a little better this holiday season.  I believe laughter is a gift from God. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17:22 NLT).  

My cousin's laughter hasn't come without effort.  Joy requires strength and discipline, but the art of letting go can produce soul healing.  May we use laughter as part of that “good medicine” rather than dwelling in the brokenness that “saps [our] strength.”

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