Anxiety Is No Laughing Matter. Or Is It?

My sister and I started a tradition a few years back to run the Sporting Life 10km every year on Mother’s Day. It provides us with a fitness goal as we emerge from the deep freeze of winter, an important charity to contribute to and something we can do together on a day that celebrates Mom life.

Once our tradition got some momentum we added in a night at The Shangri-La before the run. This year we both got through the Saturday hustle with our family’s (this was a wknd where I had all five kids in my house – so a busy one) and escaped in time to check-in and kick off our tradition. We enjoyed a delicious appetizer and a glass of bubbles in the elegant hotel lobby followed by a pasta dinner at the cozy Soho House next door. The ultimate nightcap was our soak in the spa hot tub with a cup of mint tea on the side.

What happened next kind of threw me for a loop. Despite the fact that at times I suffer from disruptive sleep (I thank my job as a Mom for this one), I never have trouble falling asleep. Ever. Period.  This night, I almost instantly knew something was different. I was restless and not drifting into my usual slumber. I started tossing and turning and then my mind fired up and I couldn’t turn it off. I live in the city but my house is on a quiet street. All I could focus on this evening was the sound of sirens and horns honking outside the hotel. I didn’t pack my essential oils, sleep mask or ear plugs – big mistake. So then my anxiety rolled in. Anxiety appeared in my life for the first time when I was going through the separation with my husband. With diligent work and focus I was able to get it under control and help it fade away. I very rarely have those sensations any more. This evening it was coming on strong. My brain could not get off the hamster wheel. I spend a lot of mental energy thinking about my ex husband. I worry about him – constantly. I thought about my kids, my career, my parents, my boyfriend Matt who I’m building a life with, his children, our health, our futures. You name it – it was on my mind and slamming me.

I have tools. I tried them all. Meditation apps, countless asanas in the quiet dimly lit hotel bathroom (trying desperately not to wake my sis), reading, breath work and nothing was working. With each minute that passed the stress I was experiencing around my lack of sleep was building. In the end it was after 4 and I was still wide awake. My alarm would sound in an hour and I’d be off and running – pun intended.

What happened next is my reason for sharing this little story. Out of nowhere and completely by accident, I stumbled upon humour.  I imagined myself telling my sister about my ridiculous night. I pictured us laughing about me doing yoga in the bathroom and all of a sudden I was laying there laughing. I remembered that there’s no way the things I was worrying about would seem as daunting once the sun came up. Despite the fact that everything that was swirling around in my brain is real and some things on my plate are very serious, require attention and bring me an understandable amount of concern, fear and unknown – this too shall pass. This night will end, the sun will rise, I will laugh again and even though I was mentally exhausted, my body was rested. I drifted into a peaceful sleep around 430am.  So yes, the entire next day was performed on about 30 minutes of sleep.

I woke up feeling empowered (and tired) with another tool for my anxiety. Over the next few days I had a flashback to an Arts Therapy course I studied in University. I haven’t thought about that course in nearly 20 years so I dove in and did some research on arts therapy and laughter for anxiety. We’re all familiar with the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”. It turns out that laughter does things like stimulate organs and increase endorphins that are released by your brain, activates and relieves your stress response, boosts immunity, soothes tension by stimulating circulation and combats depression. The things I was discovering are not necessarily new to me. I am aware that laughter therapy exists. I participated in a laughter circle in a university course. But to rediscover something because I needed a technique for myself was fascinating and a giant relief.

So next time you need a tool to face your anxiety – give this one a whirl. I’m not a scientist or a researcher and I’m sure there are people out there that would disagree with some of these philosophies being medicine – but it worked for me and maybe it will help you one day.