The Benefit of Laughter

The Benefit of Laughter

Did you know that healthy children can laugh 400 times in a day but adults only average 15 times? It seems that we all need more laughter in our lives. But, does it really matter? Is laughter the best medicine?

The Benefit of Laughter

Well, research indicates that laughter is beneficial for our stress levels and our overall wellbeing. There are immediate short-term benefits and there are great long-term effects:

Short Term:

  1. Reduce stress: Laughter changes the perspective of stressful events and we can view them more as challenges and therefore less threatening. The relaxation of your muscles makes you less tense which reduces the symptoms of stress.
  2. Stimulation: Laughter increases your breathing and the oxygen boost stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. And, the brain releases more endorphins.
  3. Exercise: Laughing is an exercise for the diaphragm, abs and shoulders and also leaves them more relaxed.
  4. Contagious: Laughter is contagious. It effects the others around you and brings increased benefits to a group. You will laugh more at a comedy with a group than on your own.

Long Term:

  1. Immune system: The positive thoughts that accompany laughter releases neuropeptides that help fight stress and general illnesses. While you have banished the negative thoughts that would otherwise flood your body with harmful and stress producing chemicals.
  2. Pain: Laughter is believed to produce natural painkillers to ease pain.
  3. Depression: Laughter provides a long term and beneficial effect by reducing the symptoms of depression.
  4. Fake it: Research indicates that the positive effects of laughter are not dependant on whether it is real or faked. Like many things, faking it works and, as a bonus, usually leads to it becoming real over the long term.
  5. Social: As in ‘contagious’ above, the group benefits of laughter can lead to an improvement in the quality of your social life.

You don’t find that much is funny in life? Just give it a try and try to find the funny side. Laugh at your bloopers instead of cursing. Enjoy a good comedy – live is often best. Observe yourself after a good laugh. Feeling good and relaxed? That’s laughter at work.

Befriend your Nervous System

Befriend your Nervous System

 

Our brain is wired to constantly scan for potential dangers and safety in our surroundings, even if we do so without realizing it. We read thousands of social cues when we interact with others, such as facial expressions, voice tones, body language, and more. Dr Stephen Porgers developed the Polyvagal Theory which describes the process of the neural circuits assessing whether the situations are dangerous or safe. He called it neuroception. This ability to distinguish cues of safety, danger, life-threatening situations, or people in a split second is learned throughout our early childhood development stages by observing our caregivers and from life experiences.

In Polyvagal Theory, there are three stages of the autonomic nervous system: Immobilization, Mobilization, and Social Engagement. Deb Dana, a US social worker and expert in Polyvagal theory, describes these three responses as an autonomic ladder. When we are at the top of the ladder there is a state of social engagement. We feel calm and want to connect or interact with others. When our bodies sense signs of danger, we move to the middle of the ladder. At this Mobilization stage, our heart rate speeds up, our breath is short, and our body will release adrenaline to prepare us for harm. We might ruminate with negative thoughts, feel anxious, and want to run away or lash out. While we continue to encounter extreme life-threatening danger, our nervous system starts to perform intensely. When all else fails, we will fall to the bottom of the ladder to the Immobilization mode causing us to become frozen, numb, dissociated, shut down, or collapse. You might describe ourselves as hopeless, helpless, abandoned, lonely, or too tired to think or act.

We shift up and down on different levels of the Polyvagal “ladder” every day. By being aware of what ladder level we are on at any given moment and understanding how we move between levels, we can be in control to move up if we are on a lower part of the ladder. We can set a specific time-out moment to check our status according to the schedule. When we notice that we are in the middle or bottom of the ladder we can say to ourselves, “Thank you, nervous system, for trying to protect me from danger. I am safe now.” Then we can do the activities that help us move up to the top of the ladder such as taking a break, going for a walk, doing some exercise, or having something to eat or drink. Social engagement behaviours will occur when the neuroception is feeling safe. 

Here is an example of shifting through different states of the ladder. I was enjoying a conversation with my close friends, feeling happy and connected (top of the ladder). The conversation turned to the current COVID situation and I started comparing my life to their friend’s life overseas. I started to feel frustrated that I haven’t seen my family for over two years or even been able to travel abroad (moving down the ladder). I disconnected from the conversation and was not able to pay attention to what my friend was saying (shutting down and moving to the bottom of the ladder). After dinner, I took a walk with my friend and felt more relaxed (beginning to move up the ladder). I started to tune in to the conversation again. I talked about the possibility of travelling and goals for the future (back to the top of the ladder). 

When we befriend our autonomic nervous system, we can then begin to understand our internal response patterns. When we are aware of our movement on the Polyvagal “ladder,” we can successfully manoeuvre to safety and connection. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Re-entering the Outside World

Re-entering the Outside World

Travelling post-Covid

In the 2015 movie “Room”, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, a mother and her son Jack are held captive in a single-room outbuilding for nearly seven years.  During this time, “Ma” works to keep her son healthy and happy by structuring their days with physical and mental exercises, keeping a healthy diet, limiting TV-watching time, and a strict regime of body and oral hygiene. Because it is all he has ever known, Jack believes that only the things in his immediate world are “real.” Ma, unwilling to disappoint Jack with a life she cannot give him, allows him to believe that the rest of the world exists only on television.  When they eventually escape, Ma must begin the process of relearning how to interact with the larger world, and Jack, who is overwhelmed by new experiences and people (and the realisation that the world actually exists beyond TV), wants only to return to the safety of the world he knows – the world of his Room.

 

 

I recently ventured out of Hong Kong for the first time in two years.  My husband and I planned the trip in order to bring our son home – he’d been delayed in Australia because of Hong Kong’s ban on flights from “high risk” countries.  We intended to meet him in Thailand, do a 14-day “wash out”, and then fly back to Hong Kong together.  The trip was functional in nature, with the goal of getting him back to Hong Kong and regular school.  It took weeks of organising, securing various approvals, passes, and certificates, and an off-the-charts level of patience.

About a week before we were set to travel, the HK government rescinded the flight ban, which meant we could potentially fly our son straight back to the city.  This prompted a debate:  Should we still go?  Was it necessary? Should we spend the money?  Would we rather wait and take an actual holiday later?  What if we got Covid while overseas?  Would we be able to get proper medical attention?  Would we be able to get back into Hong Kong?  And on, and on.

Eventually, having reminded ourselves that we both loved Thailand and we hadn’t been outside of Hong Kong for what felt like ages, we decided to go. Being effectively ‘grounded’ (or as some of our friends described it, “imprisoned”) for the last two years had taught us two things:  first, that life is short, and it is richer with travel; second, that we’d taken for granted our ability to see friends and family whenever we wanted.  Like most Hong Kong people, we were used to hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice, and living away from our families had not precluded us from seeing them.  We saw an opportunity to reconnect through this trip.  We decided to turn it into a long-awaited holiday, and invited the rest of our family and some friends to join us.  With the decision made, we felt a surge of joy and anticipation.  We had something to look forward to.

While we fully expected that travel in a post-Covid world would be a logistical hassle, what we didn’t anticipate was how it would feel to be out in the world again.  We experienced walking mask-free down public streets and entering restaurants without checking in.  We went to bars that were packed wall-to-wall with people (again, no masks).  We saw people shaking hands and hugging again.  We made plans and reservations for meals and activities, without having to check whether venues were open.  We were able to go out without carrying our phones.

How did it feel?  Honestly, it was a strange sensation, which led us to reflect on how we’d coped with the last two years.  We felt happy, sad, frustrated, regretful, guilty, optimistic, and resigned all at the same time.  The joy and appreciation of rejoining the outside world sat very uncomfortably against a sense of grief at having missed two years with people we love.  Had we done the right thing in avoiding travelling to see our family and friends, simply because of government restrictions?  Should we have pushed ourselves harder to just cope with multiple periods (and the expense) of hotel quarantine, for the reward of spending precious time with loved ones?  What if something had happened to them (as it did for so many families) and we weren’t there?  This was an experience of simultaneous celebration and self-flagellation.  Being with our family and friends again filled our hearts, and also reminded us of how much we’d missed.  In addition, it highlighted how much we’d gotten used to life with Covid – mask-wearing, contact tracing, vaccination discussions, rapid antigen testing, and avoiding coughing in public all felt normal to us.  The absence of these things felt uncomfortable and foreign.

There is something in this for me that connects back to Ma’s experience of escaping the Room.  She’s been isolated for so long, and the narrow world she’s inhabited for the last seven years has suddenly widened beyond comprehension.  She does not remember how to exist in that world. What was an effective coping mechanism – creating structure, routine, and stories for herself and Jack to deal with a lack of freedom – is no longer needed.  The prison no longer exists.  But she also feels guilt at not preparing Jack for the real world.  Anger for being imprisoned for so long and missing out on life. Uncertainty about how to relate to people other than her son.  Regret at not having been able to escape sooner.  Grief at the loss of time and the experiences she and Jack have missed.  Fear and discomfort at re-entering a world that has been lost to her for seven years.

The tight restrictions in Hong Kong were nothing compared to what Ma and Jack had to endure.  I am not suggesting for a second that travel restrictions are anywhere close to being imprisoned and traumatised on a daily basis for seven years.  What does strike me is the wide range and similarity of feelings that bubble up once a fuller amount of freedom is available to us, whether that freedom comes in the form of post-Covid travel or a release from captivity.

Our ability to adapt to our surroundings has ensured our survival over time.   Covid led governments around the world to implement restrictions on daily living which none of us could have imagined.  And we’ve coped with those restrictions by getting used to not travelling, by learning to be more still, and by adapting our daily routines to fill the void.  Ma coped with her lack of freedom much in the same way – by creating routines to foster a sense of normalcy for her and her son.  We humans have the capacity for profound resilience in the face of adversity.

As our world begins to open up, a new range of choices becomes available to us.  What will we do with that freedom?  We can stay home, avoid the complexity of travel and the risk of getting sick, and remain comfortable in the routines we’ve built for ourselves.  The trade-off is, perhaps, a greater richness in life.  Alternatively, we can start travelling and stepping back out into the world, accepting that we don’t know what will happen when we do, and we don’t know how it’ll affect us.

Regardless of whether you stay put, or step back into travel, you can expect to “feel all of the feels”.  The challenge is to stay in the present and allow the full range of emotions to wash through us.  Nothing can be done to change the past or to control the future.  

What choice will you make?  

Find out more about Kelly here

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Kelly or AMindset can support you, please contact us.



Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication

 

Healthy, productive communication is crucial to keep any relationship strong. Dr. John Gottman, the renowned psychologist and relationship researcher, determined that there are four kinds of communication habits that are the most destructive and biggest predictors of relationship demise. Dr. Gottman referred to those four traits as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Based on the “Four Horsemen,” Dr. Gottman and his research team can predict the probability of a divorce with over 90% accuracy within 15 minutes of observing the communications patterns of a couple during conflicts.

Conflicts, in any kind of relationship, are inevitable, normal, and even necessary. Having conflict is not the problem, but rather dealing with those conflicts is the key to defining the quality of the relationship. Each disagreement can be seen as an opportunity for couples to either achieve deeper connections or the possibility to tear their relationship apart. When conflicts happen, please ask yourself, do you want to argue for a win or want to connect and be heard? If you choose to connect, then we need to practice expressing our thoughts and needs with healthier communications skills. 

One of my favourite models of communication for solving personal conflicts is Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The objective of NVC is to have a sincere and frank conversation while paying attention with empathy and handling potential disputes with respect and thoughtfulness. The basis of Nonviolent Communication is being ready to recognize and proceed towards matters in a non-judgemental way.

Following four fundamental steps can help us to master the art of NVC. The steps are Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests, from the book, “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Let’s examine each one individually. 

Observations: Making observations is the act of describing factual information about what happened without judgments or interpretations. For example, instead of saying “He is a bad player,” you can say, “He did not make any goals in the past two games.” Or instead of saying, “You are so sloppy,” a person can say, “You did not change your clothes for three days.” Without emotional or judgmental words, the listener will most likely understand the detail being illustrated.

Feelings: Express your emotions not your thoughts. For example, instead of saying, “I feel misunderstood,” which includes an interpretation of behaviour, one could simply say, “I feel frustrated.” The key is to focus on words that describe our inner emotions. Sentences starting with, “I feel like,” or “I feel that,” usually end with describing our thoughts or interpretations of another person’s feelings or actions.

Needs: Negative feelings are caused by unfulfilled needs. State your needs rather than the other person’s actions as the cause. The key is to connect our inner values and focus on words that describe shared human experiences. For example, one can say, “I feel annoyed because I need more support,” rather than, “I feel annoyed because you don’t do the laundry.” 

Requests: Ask clearly in positive action language. The request must be doable and specific. The key is to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want. For example, instead of saying, “Please don’t invade my privacy,” one could say, “Would you knock on my door before coming in?”

Here is another example of a wife using NVC to express her concerns. 

“This is the third weekend in a row that you worked during the weekend (OBSERVATION). I feel sad because we don’t have the chance to spend some time together (FEELINGS). It is important for me to feel connected with you (NEEDS). Would you please come home earlier and we can have dinner together (REQUESTS)?”

Nonviolent Communication is a process for us to understand and take responsibility for our own feelings, needs, and inner experiences before communicating with others. It begins with observing the situation, recognizing our feelings, followed by connecting with our needs, and finally proposing the request specifically. Hopefully, the listener will empathize with us, fostering understanding and creating a connection that leads to meeting everyone’s needs. Learning NVC is similar to learning a new language. With practice, a person can speak fluently in Nonviolent Communication in no time. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Say No To Emotional Blackmail

Say No To Emotional Blackmail

 

Are you always a “Yes” person? If the answer is yes, maybe you will realize people around you always ask you to do something for them and you are the one who doesn’t know how to say no. If you don’t do what other people ask then you might feel very guilty and are probably concerned that something bad will happen as a result. If this seems familiar then you are probably engaged in a cycle of Emotional Blackmail. 

What is Emotional Blackmail?

In the book “Emotional Blackmail,” Susan Forward and Donna Frazier, defined it as the condition when someone uses fear, obligations, and guilt to manipulate another person to give in to their demands. Emotional Blackmailers utilize a person’s fear of displeasing others to compel them to capitulate to the blackmailer’s demands, while also making those who don’t comply feel guilty.

It usually happens to two people with close relationships, especially between parents and children. Knowing that someone close to them wants love or approval, blackmailers may threaten to withhold affection or take them away altogether, making the other person feel that they must earn them by agreement. Some emotionally immature parents use emotional blackmail to control their children often because those parents have low self-esteem caused by a difficult childhood. Those parents can only feel loved and important when their children fulfill all their demands. 

It’s natural for children to try anything to feel connected to their parents. Receiving approval or affirmation from parents creates connections that make children feel more secure. As they  grow up in these manipulative relationships, they might develop core beliefs such as, “What I need is not important,” as well as, “If I don’t do what my parents ask, then I am a bad person.” However, if a person always puts other people‘s needs before their own then sooner or later they might neglect their own emotions and needs.

Since they have given up recognizing their own feelings and demands, others have no obligation to be responsible for their mental health. As a person starts to pay attention to their own feelings and needs, they start to love and take care of themselves. When one starts to know how to reject others for self-protection, they will start to feel their inner strength, which empowers them. During this process, others will also learn how to interact and respect those feelings and boundaries. 

How to Respond

If a person suspects that they are engaging in the emotional blackmail process, they can use the SOS principles, which stands for Stop, Observe and Strategize.

Stop: Do not respond immediately and give some time to think and step away from the pressure. A person could say, “I don’t have an answer for you right now. I need some time to think about it.” Once a person stops complying with the demands in order to calm their fears and deal with the guilt, they can regain control over the situation and their life. 

Observe: Become an observer of both oneself and the other person. Explore the demands objectively and be aware of internal thoughts and feelings. 

Strategize: Use strategies such as non-defensive communications to present boundaries to the blackmailer and hold ground no matter how the other person reacts. You could say, “I am sorry you are upset, let’s talk about it when you feel calmer” or “Maybe you are right, but I think we just see things differently.”

Building Emotional Boundaries

Some people feel very guilty when their parents have negative emotions. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and never build emotional boundaries. However, everyone should only be responsible for their own feelings, not others. When we say no to people, the rejected person might feel hurt and upset. However, it is precisely at this moment that a person needs to accept and allow themselves to be responsible for managing their own emotions and feelings.

If someone is too guilty to take care of their own needs then they are living the life of other people’s expectations, thus making the purpose of life just worrying about how to satisfy others. A person can be kind and caring to others but at the same time avoid over sacrificing. He or she is only responsible for his or her own behavior and actions, not for other people’s emotions. If only one person is allowed to express their feelings and needs in a relationship then the relationship is no longer healthy or balanced. 

Emotional boundaries should also be flexible and not on a thin deadline. Sometimes the boundaries will change, depending on the situation. We all need to learn how to express ourselves, guard our boundaries, and escape from emotional manipulation to live our own life. Otherwise, we may fall victim to Emotional Blackmail.

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Negative Emotions can be Good for You

Negative Emotions can be Good for You

“How can I get rid of those negative feelings and just be happy?” I have often heard this question asked by clients. We live in a culture that tells everyone to pursue happiness by eliminating negative feelings, staying positive. If you feel depressed, society will see you as somehow defective or weak. In fact, each emotion is a very useful signal, especially those negative emotions, because they send us information and try to tell us what we really desire. Anxiety and anger are only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface is the core need that wants to be heard. For example, if you feel angry, maybe someone has encroached on your boundaries. Anger helps you to fight for yourself or others. If you feel guilty it might mean that you have done something wrong and you want to correct your behaviours. If you feel fear, it’s warning you to look for danger and activates a fight or flight response to deal with the threats. If you feel sad, it tells you that you might lose something very important in your life and you need support and understanding from others. If you feel bored, maybe it’s because you are not getting the challenges and stimulation you need. All the negative emotions are our protectors, giving us clues to pay attention to what is important in our lives and the things we need to change.

Sometimes people might say that if we don’t feel any emotions then we won’t have any painful feelings. However, numbing your emotions might allow one to block out the pain, but it also disconnects you from joy and love. The reality is that all the things that make life meaningful come with pain. For example, in a relationship, you will enjoy wonderful feelings like excitement and joy and you will also experience disappointment as well as frustration.     There is no such thing as the perfect relationship and life always gives us things that we don’t want, such as illnesses and injuries. The aim of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to help people effectively handle the inevitable pain while living a rich and meaningful life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy describe thoughts and emotions with weather metaphors and the self as a sky. The weather changes constantly, but no matter how bad the weather is, even the most destructive tornado can not hurt the sky in any way and the sky always has room for it. Sometimes we can’t see the sky because it’s shrouded by the darkest clouds. But if we rise high enough above those clouds, sooner or later we will reach a clear sky. However, when emotional storms come, people tend to adopt an autopilot mode. For example, when anger shows up, people might yell or lash out, say hurtful things or storm out of the room, but feel guilty after the emotional storm has passed. Those people are allowing anger to push them around like a puppet on a string. Self-awareness is the first step to switching off the autopilot. Next time, when any of the difficult thoughts and feelings come up, just take a moment to acknowledge, to accept, and make room for them, say to yourself, “here is anger” or “I am having thoughts that I am not good enough”. By labelling thoughts and feelings, it can help to switch from autopilot mode and consciously choose how one would like to respond to the challenges of that situation. Anxiety or anger may still persist but the emotional storm is no longer in control.

If you look for changes in your life, start with welcoming and accepting all the parts in you including the darker parts you always try to avoid. Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists in the 20th century, once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Trauma