As I was winding up my morning workout, I was drawn to the sound of laughter from the park adjacent to my house. This park is usually busy with amateur athletes practicing their sports and many others engaging in the simple pleasures derived from sundry fitness activities. I stood on my balcony and watched what was happening and among the usual crowd that I am used to seeing in the park I saw a new group of people.
They were standing in a circle, twirling their arms, waddling like penguins, and laughing their hearts out. At first, I thought how ridiculous it is to laugh so loud and so early in the day but then I realized my mistake. They were not laughing in humor; they were performing laughter yoga.
Laughter yoga involves voluntary laughter and is believed to provide the same health benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter is indeed liberating as it relaxes the whole body and relieves all kind of stress. Seeing that group of intent people laughing like there was no tomorrow got me thinking. I wondered: How is it that we no longer know how to laugh spontaneously? How has laughter changed from being a spontaneous act to being a deliberate decision? And why do some of us force ourselves to laugh?
The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind but lies within us. Many of us have chained ourselves to this insatiable monster of a desire to relentlessly grow, professionally and financially. Some of us want to achieve more in less time, and yet many of us, including those who tend to pack in more in less time, still aspire to a perfect life. We seldom have time for ourselves and caught in the rat race we overlook life’s beautiful little moments. We get so busy trying to be perfect that we don’t realize when stress, depression and anxiety creep into our lives unnoticed.
Stress itself isn’t abnormal or bad. What’s important is how we deal with stress. Susceptibility to stress varies from person to person. However, stress is negative when it exceeds our ability to cope, and causes behavioral or physical problems. Negative stress such as chronic illnesses, relationship conflicts, work-related stress, and dysfunctional families will eventually have a negative impact on our lives. This coupled with extreme anxiety and loneliness will lead to depression. Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression worldwide, an increase of more than 18 percent between 2005 and 2015.
Apparently, different individuals have different coping mechanisms. News about people committing suicide, teenagers addicted to drugs and the alarming rise in diabetic and heart ailments due to stress is a big reason for us to reassess our lives.
Some take stress as a challenge and face it head on. But many take it as a threat and succumb to its overpowering impact on their physical and mental health. This reminds me of a video I watched recently in which different types of balls were crushed by a hydraulic press. The tennis ball exploded, the golf ball popped and crackled and a hockey ball lost its shape but didn’t explode or shatter.
In a sense, human beings are also like those different sports balls. We all go through stress everyday but it is important to analyze how we respond to those triggers. Do we face it or do we crumble under pressure? Do we take it as a challenge or consider it a threat? Lou Holtz, a former American football player, coach, and analyst once said, ‘It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.’ Which is why some of us thrive under pressure, some tolerate stress even if it means losing one’s identity and some hold on until they have a nervous breakdown.
Boiling frog syndrome
Recently, I saw a Facebook post on the ‘Boiling frog syndrome’. This is based on a metaphor used by an American author Daniel Quinn in his book The Story of B. When we put a frog in a pot of water and start heating it, the frog adjusts its body temperature to the rise in water temperature. Instead of jumping out of the water the frog keeps adjusting to the increase in temperature till it can adjust no more it boils itself to death. What killed the frog? More than the boiling water it is the frog’s decision not to jump out. I was acutely uncomfortable at the sight of a frog in boiling water but then at the same time I couldn’t help but think: Are we boiling ourselves too?
But it seems that if there is one thing in common between humans and frogs, it is the power to adjust. Some may term that ability to adjust as resilience. Like the slow-boiling frog, people tend to cling on to their jobs even though it may be draining them emotionally, physically and mentally. Some people adjust to bad relationships and domestic violence and there are others who, like the frog, keep it till very late to attempt a jump, but by then it is too late. Unlike the frog we know the consequences but we fear to quit. The fear of the unknown restrains us and many of us try and tough it out, to adjust, till eventually inertia sets in and all is lost.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming big or tightening that belt and squaring that shoulder to reach for the moon. But let’s be careful that our dream is not holding up our breath or ruining our lives. At times when we feel we cannot handle it anymore and when our stress starts taking a toll on our mental and physical health, it is time to see that huge red flag fluttering in the slipstream of our greed. It is time to rethink, to reassess and to reroute our paths.
All of us have different stress thresholds and letting go seems to be the most difficult decision. But that is still not an excuse to be a frog. Don’t ever let yourself be boiled to death. Be human, be intelligent and chose your destiny, unlike the late amphibian that kept things for too late.