Working moms need to laugh

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by Katrina on August 24, 2010

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” –Mark Twain

Most of the stuff on this blog explores the problem of work-life conflict. But I got a lot of compliments about an advice-oriented post I wrote in June, which had some tips for managing extreme stress.

Thus encouraged, I’ve put together a sequel. Here are more easy, cheap, and effective ways to back away from your edge before you pitch over.

At one of my (many, many) low points when I was still working full time, I remember talking to my sister on the phone.

Holly is usually a sympathetic listener, but this time she tried a different tack.

“You know what you’re problem is?” she said. “You need to have more fun.”

Fun? I thought. What the hell is she talking about?

I didn’t have time for anything except working and taking care of kids, which, frankly, just felt like more work.

I had given up almost all the things I had once thought of as “fun.” I had given up movies, hosting or attending parties, dancing, traveling, or trying to have any kind of a social life. I managed to keep doing yoga, but even that wasn’t fun anymore; it was necessary maintenance for someone with a bad back and an overly sensitive nervous system.

“You need to laugh more,” Holly continued. “It doesn’t even matter what you’re laughing about. Life is too serious.”

And of course, she was right. Whether or not laughter is the best medicine, it’s certainly a great coping technique. It may not make you less busy, but it will boost your immune system, protect your heart, help you handle stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve your intake of oxygen. Also, it has zero calories, zero negative side effects, and it’s free.

Will Ferrell in Blades of GloryA week after our phone call, a package came in the mail. I had been ordering a lot of books online, often of the self-help variety. But this wasn’t something I’d ordered. It was from my sister—the DVD for “Blades of Glory.”

Now, I’m partial to brooding documentaries like “Fog of War.” Even my husband, who is more of a comedy connoisseur, inspected the image of Will Ferrell in sequins on the cover with a critical frown. “Blades of Glory” just isn’t a movie that either of us would have picked. Which is why my sister ordered it for us.

We watched it after we put the kids to bed.

It was dumb. However, we did laugh. It was a little 90-minute vacation from the grind.

Please don’t think I’m saying you should just laugh your cares away. Please. A good chuckle is not going to save you the trip to the grocery store with two cranky kids, or help you make time in an overly crowded schedule to somehow pay your taxes or get the car repaired.

But if you’re fighting a losing battle against stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety, it’s good to remember laughing is not only good for your body, it’s good for your soul. When you laugh, you burst the illusion that you are alone in your misery. When you laugh, you connect.

Need something to laugh about? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Host a game night.
I know a few parents who do this. They put a movie on for the kids in the living room. Then the grownups sit in the kitchen drinking wine (or whiskey, or water, or whatever) and playing games. It’s a way to be social without talking about work or kids, the two topics most of us have a hard time breaking away from. Pictionary, in particular, seems to inspire great gales of laughter.

2. Start a ‘Family Book of Quotations.’
The greatest source of laughter is right there in your own house. It’s easy to take for granted the wonderful, silly, ridiculous, bizarre, inventive things that kids say every day. Brian and I keep a book where we can write the best ones down.

Every few months our kids beg us to take the quote book out and read some of the things they said when they were “little.” If not for the quote book, we might have forgotten that Jake used to call his Flintstones vitamins “cracker-rocks” or that Martha used to call her hand-me-downs “hand-it-overs.” Or that Ruby once said this:

“Mama, for Christmas I’m going to ask Santa for a dreidel and a Chanukah candle.”

3. Watch a really funny movie. Or just a stupid movie.
But not just any funny/stupid movie. Overly mean humor puts me in a bad mood. And when I’m tired, I can’t get into arch, ironic, or Woody Allen. Maybe that’s just me. I need fun, celebratory humor. In addition to “Blades of Glory,” I have gotten a good laugh from

Can’t stay awake long enough to watch a whole movie? Been there. Try stand up comedy. These are some of my husband’s favorites: Eddy Izzard, Louis CK, and Chris Rock.

4. Listen to funny music.
Music is even better than movies, because you don’t have to stop whatever you’re doing. Brian has a bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” that can pull him out of the blackest mood (and when you’re part Scotch-Irish, part Croatian, it can get pretty bleak). Likewise, every time I listen to Todd Snider’s “Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request,” I laugh out loud. OK, I don’t just laugh. I squeal. And you can always get the soundtrack for “A Colbert Christmas” on iTunes. It’s funny all year round. Jonathan Richman can be pretty funny, too.

5. Find a laughter yoga class.
I’ve never tried this, but it sounds like a great idea—combining yoga breath with laughter. It’s based on the idea your body can’t differentiate between fake and real laughter; both produce the same physiological and psychological benefits. Following the same logic, you can simply try smiling for no reason.

6. Be childish.
Reading to the kids at bedtime isn’t supposed to be a chore. But after three kids and nine years of “Green Eggs and Ham,” it certainly can feel that way. To combat boredom, Brian will change the words, randomly inserting the word “cheeseburger.” Or he’ll try to end the story on the second page. Or he’ll add in poop jokes. I feel like I should give him a time out sometimes, but the kids think this is hysterical.

My own specialty is reading the Charlie & Lola books in a bad British accent. I don’t know why this is funny. It just is.

Have more suggestions for ways to laugh? Share them here!

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