It’s how you react to stress that counts

Humor can help boost employee health

In the modern workplace, it’s virtually impossible to avoid stress. But you can control how you react to stressful situations.

That’s the Rx for better health offered by Sandy Baker, president of Leave Em Laughing in Lyndhurst, OH. "Like it or not, stress is an inevitable part of life," she says. "Stress takes a daily toll on all of us. How you deal with it, though, quickly determines your overall health."

The best way to deal with stress? Baker prescribes humor.

Crying or yelling when things go wrong foster a negative attitude and add undue stress to your body, says Baker. But laughing during a stressful time — while not a natural response — will diminish the emotional stress of any situation.

You don’t have to actually feel happy to laugh, Baker insists. For many of us, the thought of losing a whole day’s worth of work when the power goes out cannot possibly bring a smile to our faces. In that case, the best thing to do is to take a step back, take a deep breath and force yourself to laugh.

"You can put yourself in a good mood by laughing even if you have to fake it," Baker explains. "Or, you can go out and buy a laugh track — and after you hear that for a few minutes it will put you in a good mood."

When you let stress get the better of you, "You get into a bad mood; you get headaches, backaches, and stomach aches," says Baker. "If something stressful happens at work — even if you can’t get away — you can change your attitude, walk out of the room for a few minutes, look at something humorous, or go talk to another employee. It just seems to make you feel so much better."

Incorporate humor daily

It’s easier to inject humor into stressful situations if you incorporate humor into your daily life, says Baker. She refers to this strategy as "harvesting humor." Here are several ways in which you can regularly "harvest" humor:

1. Keep a "funny jar." Take an old jar and label it "funny jar." Decorate the label in a humorous fashion. Then, whenever you hear a funny joke or story, or something funny happens to you, write it on a piece of paper and put it in your funny jar. Then, whenever the need arises, read one of your humorous anecdotes and laugh. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a joke can make you feel better. Tell your co-workers about this stress remedy, and encourage them to use your funny jar.

2. Surround yourself with humor. Decorate your work spaces with anything that puts a smile on your face. Hang up a funny picture by your desk, or tack up the Sunday comics on the wall. Make your surroundings a breeding ground for humor, and soon it will become contagious. "I have a framed Three Stooges poster on my wall," says Baker. "One of them is pulling his tooth out with a pliers. I also have animals saying they’re having a bad day. Just keep things around you can look at that bring a smile to your face." In some cases, she says, we may need to re-learn humor. "The average preschool kid laughs 300 times a day compared to the average adult, who only laughs 12 times a day," she notes. "Go to a toy store and buy yourself silly things like yo-yos."

Share that e-mail joke

3. Share humor with others. If you receive a good joke via e-mail, don’t delete it — pass it on! If you hear a funny story from a family member, pass it on to your co-workers. If you share your humor with others, they will be more likely to reciprocate, and fuel a humorous atmosphere in the workplace. "Everything feels better when you laugh," Baker says, "And you can laugh about anything that happens."

4. Surf the Web for a good laugh. If you’re looking for a good laugh, log on to the Internet and type the word "humor" into a search browser. From there you will find a good joke or humorous story to fit any situation.

5. Take some lessons from the pros. Use your favorite comedians for inspiration. When work is stressing you out, ask yourself, "How would my favorite comedian react to this dilemma?" This will help you find the humor in everyday life. "I had breast cancer," Baker relates. "I watched my I Love Lucy’ tapes constantly. I love her — she’s always so funny. I could have sat there and been uncomfortable and complained, but she helped me to be positive. I think she would have made a big joke out of it, because that’s the kind of person she was, so I did."

Finally, says Baker, be an "ambassador of humor" at your workplace. "If someone is complaining about work, tell them a joke; it makes them feel better and you’ll feel better, too," she says. "To keep yourself on an even keel, take a roll of toilet paper to work. If anyone at work really bothers you – and we all have someone like that — write about them on the toilet paper. At the end of the week, just tear it off and flush it."

Sandy Baker, Leave Em Laughing, 5124 Mayfield Road, #203, Lyndhurst, OH 44124. Telephone (216) 382-8948. Web site: