How to Deal with Stress Like a Champ!
I've heard it said that dogs may laugh, but cats get the joke.
Years ago, I named my cat after a theologian I was studying (Barth), the middle name of a dear mentor, and a bagpipe eating muppet (I kid you not: video here). Besides having a personally funny name, he was just a really 'kool cat.' But ... I am not here to talk about the cat himself. Besides, my beloved cat-loathing preacher-pastor may have already deleted the email notification containing this post or may not have gotten past this first paragraph since I used a domestic feline as an example. But here goes anyway ...
Laughing in difficult times. We buried that stupid cat under a magnolia tree and with a little garden rock made for him, that said, “Karl with a K” because that’s what my friends called him to tease me (yes, I did spell it with a K, thank you!).
A few days after we ordered it, the stone came in the mail. So there we were, in front of the couch, opening the box . . . a lump starting forming in my throat and tears were welling up. And it was – a lovely, modest garden stone with a rose on it. It said (*ahem*):
For Sadie: devoted wife, loving mother and grandmother.
I am not making this up. The company sent us the wrong memorial rock. Bad form, right?
First of all, I hope that Sadie’s family wasn’t so cheap that this was her actual gravestone (I feel sure it was for a memorial garden or something). Second, what if it was an accidental address reverse? I couldn’t help but imagine THEIR reaction if they had to open their box to find a stone that said, “Karl with a K.” But ... this was my reaction: I giggled. Then, I started REALLY laughing; in fact, I laughed myself silly.
I was sad for Sadie's family, and I hated that they lost a dear wife and mother. It was unfortunate that they may have received my rock instead of the one they ordered. But, I think you'll forgive me when I tell you that I experienced a little (really, only a little) schadenfreude upon considering the situation and I just ... really ... couldn’t help myself!
Whether it is a means to preserve our dignity or sense of control over situations, laughter gives us some reassurance really, a means to build some kind of resistance in that situation. This explains why some psychologists classify humour as one of the "mature" defence mechanisms we invoke to guard ourselves against overwhelming anxiety. I know it WAS JUST MY CAT, but being able to laugh during a (personally) traumatic event in my own life doesn't cause me to ignore it. It instead seems to prepare me, well, to endure it.
I've been through SO much worse than the loss of a pet, and so have you. But admittedly, a hearty guffaw is only a minor example of how laughter releases stress, improves your mood, boosts your immunity and can even, yes, relieve your pain.
Scripture stories have quite a lot to say about joy and laughter and can serve as an inspiration to seek more joy and laughter in YOUR life. You already know that chuckling can readily diffuse a tense situation and motivate you to find a way to bring mirth and merriment into difficult circumstances. Here is just one:
Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?”
Some have pondered why God didn't curse her for laughing at something He had promised her. Others say that she was mocking Him or calling Him a liar. I say she was reacting with incredulous joy to a stressful situation. It was happening. It was ridiculous. So she laughed!
James also shared a few "food for thought" items when encountering suffering and trials (James 2). It is often tricky to find comfort in challenging situations, but I wonder if God delivers us in and out of difficulty occasionally so that we will seek Him and grow in faith and virtue.
A good analogy of strange comfort is how a shot of medicine can make a person feel better. A shot can hurt like the dickens, but it ultimately heals. In the same way, suffering and grief can eventually produce a type of healing. So every day brings new opportunities and a chance for a fresh start. We can put yesterday’s trials and troubles aside and begin again. And sometimes ... laugh again.
Speaking of laughter through troubles ...
I'll transform her dead ground into Eden, her moonscape into the garden of God, a place filled with exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs.
Isaiah 51:1-3, The Message
Do you feel stressed out? I'm sorry.
This is not an answer to what you're dealing with, but I know what laughter can do. So watch these funny animal videos and all your stress and problems may not go away, but you will more than likely forget them for a hot second. Hysterical pet moments can make you laugh all day long!
Sadly laughter IS a rarely used way to deal with stress and sometimes when it is, it can be misunderstood. Yet ... I still remember the death of my cousin's boyfriend and how heartily his friends laughed together, weeks later, right there at his grave. I heard true, hearty laughter ... even joy. I will always remember that image of real cleansing. It was beautiful.
I hope YOU are not dealing with traumatic stress, but ... if you are feeling stressful for any reason, why don't you resolve to find joy and laughter somewhere in your day today? And furthermore, make an attempt to bring laughter or joy to another person you encounter.
I dare you.
And here's some healthy alteration for you. Here's to joy in the journey, mirth during misery, and sometimes when necessary ... glee at a gravestone.