This is another installment in my series on anxiety and depression...and it's another part of the post I wrote Wednesday night on laughter.
I have lots of anecdotal stories about how laughter has helped me in the past to deal with anxiety and depression, but first here are some words from "the experts".
Read what MayoClinic.com has to say about laughter :
Stress relief from laughter
A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but data are mounting about the positive things laughter can do.
Short-term benefitsA good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
- Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
- Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Long-term effectsLaughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It's also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:
- Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
- Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
- Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
- Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.
Isn't that amazing ? Modern day medicine is proving what the Bible has said all along about laughter:
A joyful heart is good medicine. Proverbs 17:22
Five years ago, when I went through about a season of six months of depression (in the clinical sense of the word). I thought I would never laugh again. I went to church and smiled, I tried to put on a good face for my children (I hope I succeeded), and maybe to people who didn't know me very well I was okay. But I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings, and I shrank to 95 pounds. My sweet husband took me to Costco on a massive grocery trip to try to find food that sounded appealing- because everything tasted like sand. Just swallowing took effort, and I literally lost my appetite for months. I suffered from intense insomnia - I would lie in bed til three or four in the morning trying to fall asleep. Not wanting to throw my sleep cycle off by getting up and doing something, I would lie awake tormented by anxiety. I prayed, I read my Bible, I tried to fix my mind on good things, but I just could not sleep. As you can imagine, I was exhausted during the days because of lack of sleep, but I had kids to get to school and little ones at home to take care of. I lived in a state of anxiety and guilt and fear, which I detailed more HERE.
It took everything in me just to function each day, let alone experience joy.
One night, after tossing and turning for hours, I drifted off into a deep and restful sleep - this was unusual for me, because even when I was able to sleep for a long period of time, my dreams were filled with horror.
But this time I fell asleep and dreamed that when I woke up, the ground outside was covered with snow ... and to my amazement, I was happy.
It was one of those dreams where everything was so real and precise and crisp, that I had no idea I was still dreaming. I honestly thought it was morning, and I was waking up from a long sleep. In my dream I woke the kids up to see the newly fallen snow, and we all put on layers of warm clothes to go outside to play in it. I was so completely relaxed and filled with such joy about seeing the landscape around me change, that I felt weightless - it was like I was walking on air. My kids were running around laughing and throwing snowballs at each other, and Sam was there too, and I was just smiling and taking everything in - and again - I was happy.
Where we used to live, there was a small grove of trees next to our house - we lived on an acre of property with beautiful views of a sheep pasture behind us. So in my dream, I walked over to this miniature forest, where the snow was untouched. I had boots on, and every step I took in the fresh snow left prints behind me ... and it was as if my senses were heightened to experience every crunch of the snow my boots took. I could feel the cold winter air on my face, and hear my children's laughter behind me. I could smell the woodsy aroma of that small grove of trees, and taste the snowflakes as they fell on my lips. I kept walking through that little patch of trees amazed at what I was feeling- I felt alive again.
|Mackenzie and Jackson|
And suddenly, I started to laugh. Even in my dream I realized that I had not laughed - or experienced that level of joy - in months. It was the kind of laughter that fills you up until you can't contain it - there was nothing "funny" happening around me, it was just laughter that comes from pure, untamed joy.
And just as quickly as that dream began, it ended... but it was so real that I felt like I was still in the dream.
Have you ever experienced anything like that ? Had a dream that was so good, you just wanted to go back and be in that dream again ? That's how I felt. I didn't want to be in reality again, didn't want to have to be awake to feel such nothingness again. I wanted to feel - to experience smell and taste and sounds like I had before the depression. And I wanted to laugh again.
I asked God with everything in me - I poured my heart out to Him and asked Him to make that dream a reality. It wasn't that I hadn't been praying all those months to experience life again. I had done that so many times a day, that my prayers felt like one long groan from the time I woke up til I finally fell asleep each night.
But this time I had something to hold onto and contend for - because I had almost forgotten what it was like to laugh. This time I had something tangible to point to, and say - now that is living. The black hole I had been living in was so dark, I almost forgot what senses are - my sense of taste and smell and touch had so diminished over the months, that the world seemed gray and life felt monotonous. But in my dream I had experienced every sense at a new level - it was like somebody took that ugly feeling of anxiety and depression out of my body and poured into me .... JOY!
I didn't get the answer to my prayer that morning ... or even many mornings after that. But I held onto that desire to experience laughter and joy and life again, and every time I prayed, I asked God to give me those things back. I wasn't experiencing my senses like I did in my dream, but I held onto the thought that somewhere deep inside me, my senses were there, just lying dormant. And if I could just keep clinging to God, they would come alive again.
And guess what ?
They did. That dream I just described - every vivid detail, from the crunching of the snow beneath my feet and the laughter of my children in the field behind me - every part of that dream came true.
Because one morning in December I woke up to that still, quiet "sound" of snow outside...normally there would have been some little noises outside, maybe the rustling of the trees by my window, or the bleating of the sheep in the field behind our house. But this morning there was nothing- just the hush and beautiful silence that a night of snow brought to the world around us.
I woke the kids up, and called Sam to ask him to come home to have a snowball fight with us. We piled on layers of clothes and hunted down mittens and scarves and winter hats. I don't have a picture of me on that day to post, but if I did, they would be of a mama smiling and yes - laughing - for the first time in many months. Because the entire scene played itself out in real life, right down to every detail of my dream. I remember walking through the tiny forest of snow covered trees, crunch crunch crunching the snow beneath me, and laughing with joy at the beauty around me. I ran over to Sam and the children to join in their snowball fight, and I laughed like I had not laughed since spring. I felt every single emotion that I had been lacking, and it was like my senses were on steroids- every color looked brighter, every noise and scent was stronger, and I was alive again.
I didn't immediately bounce back from depression that morning - there were still many, many weeks of the return to cold emptiness that I had felt prior to that day. But that was a turning point. Because once I realized that I could feel again, there was no going back. I knew that the real Patti - the one who loved to cook delicious meals for her family, the one who took joy in simple things like sharing a snowball fight with her kids, the one who loved to stand like a little kid with her head thrown back and her tongue sticking out, tasting the sweetness of falling snowflakes - she was in there. I might have morphed into some sad, twisted version of that mama in those dark months of anxiety and despair, but if I held on to Jesus, I was going to be myself again.
So what am I trying to say through this post ? That one dream can fix it all, or that laughter can change everything ?
I would be foolish to say so. There is no "magic cure" for anxiety and depression, as far as I've found.
But there are keys to overcoming these things, and laughter is one of them.
Please take some time today to ask God to give you your joy back. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, and asking yourself when the last time you laughed was ... please take a few moments to ask God to fill you with laughter. Pour out your heart to Him and ask Him to give you something to hold onto like my dream.
You may have moments of joy in the middle of all you're going through - hold on to them. Don't stop believing that God can give you back your laughter again, that he can turn your sorrow into joy.
Contend for that happiness- don't believe the lie that you'll never experience the love and grace and goodness that God gives again. Find something to laugh about, and trigger those emotions inside of you. They are there. Depression and anxiety may have buried them far beneath the surface of who you are, but remember this:
2 Timothy 1:7
King James Version (KJV)
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
New King James Version (NKJV)