In my last post, I talked about the three most important things you can do to take care of yourself when going through a difficult time in your life. I talked about Diet and Exercise as well as the importance of Getting Educated about whatever is troubling you. In this post, I’ll cover other things you can do to help yourself deal with any obstacles that might come your way.
I strongly urge you to learn and practice some form of meditation when you are facing pain, fear, or an unwanted change in your life. In a previous post about managing fear, I talked about how important meditation has been for me in facing life’s trials and tribulations, like my breast cancer surgery or when I feared for my son’s safety while he was traveling through the jungles of Peru.
Meditation is a way of taking care of yourself every day but is especially helpful during times of trouble because meditation calms you, centers you, and helps you to get in touch with a peaceful place deep inside. It is a place you go to gain strength and confidence in your ability to deal with whatever life throws at you.
In that post, I also talked about some of the different meditative practices in use today, and there are many. I only referenced the ones I am familiar with, and I’ll go over them again here. If you want more options, simply go to the internet where there are countless meditation sites to explore.
My own instruction in meditation came in the early 70’s when I became a student of Transcendental Meditation, a practice based on the ancient Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India. Simply put, Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is practiced by sitting comfortably with eyes closed while repeating a mantra which is a phrase made up of sounds that are not real words. This is done for 15 – 20 minutes, twice a day (although I usually meditate only once a day). The goal of TM is to free your mind from thought so that it can go inward, beyond thought, to a place of pure awareness, the most peaceful level of consciousness.
Reaching this restful, peaceful place is the goal of most schools of meditation, but there are different paths to this place. In a previous post, I mentioned a walking meditation for those who find it difficult to sit still and would rather be moving. I also talked about meditating on an object, like a candle flame or a beloved item like an antique cup. Some people like to meditate on a beautiful poem or a scriptural text. Find a practice that works for you, but do try meditation. It could very well become a practice that you use for the rest of your life.
We’ve been talking about some serious stuff here, but one of the most important things you can do for yourself when you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or scared is to laugh. And I mean rolling-on-the-floor belly laughs! But you don’t feel like laughing, do you? Too bad! You’re going to have to force yourself to do it, anyway.
Norman Cousins is known as the man who laughed himself to wellness. He was the editor of Saturday Review for over 30 years and author of a several books, including Anatomy of an Illness. In 1964, he was diagnosed with a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. While hospitalized, he researched the effects of stress on the body and found that stress could harm the immune system. He surmised that if negative emotions could harm the body, then positive emotions should improve one’s health.
After doing this research, Mr. Cousins checked himself out of the hospital and hired a nurse to read him funny stories and play Marx Brothers movies. The treatment proved so effective that soon Mr. Cousins was able to stop taking pain-killers because the laughter eased his pain and helped him sleep.
In 1989, the Journal of American Medicine acknowledged that laughter therapy could improve the quality of life for patients with a chronic illness and that laughter can have an immediate effect in relieving pain.
So, there you have it, folks – laughing can lessen your pain. But, I have found that laughter can also ease your fears. Nimrod Eisenberg agrees and that’s what led him to become a medical clown. He actually has a bachelors degree in medical clowning from the University of Haifa in Israel, and in 2003 joined Dream Doctors, an Israeli organization that brings medical clowns to clinics and hospitals. In Israel, medical clowns are available to anyone who wants them.
In his role as a medical clown, Eisenberg works along side doctors and nurses as a collaborative partner in a patient’s treatment. “We try to be there for every procedure,” Eisenberg says. “We’re there when they draw blood or change a bandage or do an X-ray.” Eisenberg adds, “A hospital can be pretty grim and depressing…But if I can change their perspective – get them to reconnect with their joy – it can do wonders.” Clowns can be so effective in stress reduction that in some minor surgeries, Eisenberg says, “a clown replaces general anesthesia.”
Eisenberg and Dream Doctors are also involved in an experimental treatment: clown-assisted in vitro fertilization. The theory is that much as laughter contributes to healing by reducing stress in sick people, it could also have the same effect on fertility patients, and research has backed this up. “There’s a lot of unspoken tension and stress in a fertility ward,” Eisenberg says. “Once you start playing with that tension and acknowledging it and joking over it, it’s able to burst out and offer some relief. You take those things that sit in the stomach and bring them to the surface so we can look at them and laugh about them.”
The idea of medical clowns has not yet taken off in the U.S., but some hospitals in Canada have expressed interest in the idea. So, if you don’t live in Israel, you’ll probably have to quell your own fear and anxiety when it comes to laughter therapy. But you can do this! If you are anxious about an up-coming surgery, for instance, or are downright afraid to talk to your boss about that raise you know you deserve, try a little levity. Rent movies that make you laugh. For Norman cousins, it was the Marx Brothers. For me it’s Office Space, Bullets Over Broadway, and Animal House. Whatever movies tickle your fancy, rent them. What if you don’t have time for a whole movie right now? How about a couple of sitcoms? Seinfeld always makes me laugh, as does Thirty Rock. Pick your own favorite show and watch it! Not enough time for a couple of sitcoms? How about Utube? Seeing other people embarrass themselves is enough to make anyone laugh out loud.