Disasters are serious events with serious consequences. Our newsfeeds, our conversations, our days are filled with images of despair, destruction, sadness and anger. As I’ve written previously, this can be overwhelming and paralysing. It’s hard to think about humour and laughter in these circumstances. There have been many times when I’ve shared a laugh in a difficult situation. only for the person to say “I guess we shouldn’t be laughing, should we” And that’s true, the situation needs to be right, the room needs to be read.
Laughter has mental health benefits, both short and long term. a good belly laugh releases endorphins, which have a range of benefits from the natural highs, to a painkiller, to making you feel good. It can lower cortisol, which we know is one of the challenging hormones in long term recovery, and it just shuts everything down to survival mode. It can also help with depression, which we also know is one of the long term outcomes of disaster. It can also improve the immune system.
Naturally timing is important. People progress in different ways. I recall speaking with a group of tsunami survivors about the importance of healthy living. When I reached the topic of humour, the room turned very cold. People weren’t ready for me to talk about laughing, and I glossed over it. Yet another time with a group of Bourke St survivors, the people were really receptive. As the cortisol takes hold of people’s lives, the attention is gone, winter is upon us, and the realisation of the road to recovery ahead becomes apparent, this would be good timing to help people have a laugh.
Also finding things to laugh about is important. I find laughing about myself is the easiest (as there is plenty to laugh about), and is also a really good disarming tool. Stay off laughing about others circumstances, it may seems innocuous, but with the amount of stress people are under, it can be hurtful.
Humour can come in many forms. The internet is full of comedy series. Indulge in a guilty pleasure and watch Monty Python (OK, showing my age), Friends, Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory, Mr Bean, anything with Tina Fey in it, etc. Clips are good, as they are short, which is very good when attention spans are reduced. Find clips of comedians that you like. Or send clips to friends who could do with a laugh. Get along to a comedy show, or find a book of jokes. There are also organised laughter clubs (although I’m mindful that these may not be in the rural areas).
My mate Damian Callinan (who’s recent film, the merger was a cracker), is about to embark on a comic relief tour of drought affected areas in northern NSW. Supported by the NSW government, he’ll also have mental health professionals in tow. This is a great way of providing relief (in its truest sense) in a safe environment.
The conversation that I had last year with a friend that kept this blog going, was with a comedian. He reflected that I did the important work, and he made people laugh. I said, but yes, making people laugh is really, really important work.