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A sense of humor is good for your health

Don’t cry over spilled milk – the healthiest response to bad news is to just laugh. Health journalist Carolyn Todd joins host Krys Boyd to discuss how well-being is tied to a mindset that embraces levity, and how humor can combat toxic stress. Her article “When Everything Is Heavy, a Touch of Humor Can Help” was published by The New York Times.

Bonus Blog: Here’s why (and how) you should lighten the mood at the office 

Even when you love your job, there can be stressful days at the office. Our guest, Carolyn Todd, is a health journalist who explains how stress can negatively impact our health—and how humor can offset it. 

Todd says chronic stress is something doctors and researchers often say is a root factor in a lot of diseases. When we’re stressed, our fight or flight systems are turned on in our brains and bodies, which takes a toll over time. 

“Emotional stress, that is something we are all very, very familiar with these days… and that does have very profound impacts on our nervous system, on our digestion, all of these things are connected,” Todd explains. 

Humor and levity, however, can actually have quite the opposite effect on us. 

“Levity and laughter and lightheartedness and humor—there are studies linking more of those experiences with all kinds of physical benefits, as far as heart health or your ability to tolerate pain, how quickly you recover from an illness, your immune functioning,” Todd says. 

Work demands and the pressure to perform and be productive can be some of daily life’s major stressors. Researchers have done extensive work focused on workplace environments and how businesses can introduce more humor and levity into work culture. 

“Business can be a very serious, buttoned-up environment… the workplace is actually one of the number one places where that sort of quality of levity and lightheartedness gets sort of socialized out of us,” says Todd. 

Some CEOs have taken it upon themselves to learn how to bring more lightheartedness to the hustle and bustle of the workplace. In her reporting, Todd has talked to a lecturer at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford who teaches business leaders to lead with humor and humanity. When it comes to changing workplace culture, Todd says it really does start with the leaders of a business. 

“Whatever the leaders, the bosses, the managers are sort of showcasing, that becomes more permissible to everybody else,” Todd explains. “When you’ve got a leader who can show a little bit more of a human side or laugh at themselves or just lighten up the mood for a moment in between a bunch of serious meetings… it sort of gives everybody else some permission to do that.” 

Humor is a social phenomenon that can catch on quickly. If you want to bring more humor (and the health benefits that go with it) into your work life, try being the first one to break the ice. 

Even if you’re not a manager, you may try setting a lighthearted tone while giving a presentation or running a meeting. Using a fun emoji, GIF or meme on a slide or Slack message could be all it takes to get a few giggles. 

— Cristin Espinosa