Depression and Anxiety: A Laughing Matter – part 1

As a quick fix for a low mood, there is nothing quite like a good belly laugh. But have you ever thought of it is a cost-effective form of treatment for anxiety and depression?

Next week I will bring you an amazing interview from one of Australia’s funniest comedians –who has been working with PSYCoaching to spread his unique insights about mental health and the great work he has been doing to help adults and kids lift their spirits.

Why So Serious?

There are times when it is not easy for us to get out of our heads and appreciate the world around us with a sense of intrigue and curiosity.  There are times when we find ourselves   “stuck in our heads” and dwelling on our problems.  You see, feelings of anxiety or depression are natural and important responses to immediately threatening situations. If we are experiencing these feelings outside of those situations, we may be taking ourselves, or the world, too seriously. There is always a brighter side of life if we can remember and know how to look for it. For some of us, this comes naturally. For others, we can learn these skills through the help of a psychologist.  Some of us are lucky enough to have people in our lives who can remind us of the bright side of life.  People who make you laugh and look on the bright side of life are good friends to have.

The idea of the court jester was built on the importance of humour to the mental health of the wealthy and powerful.  Even if in the council room or around the dinner table, the leading people didn’t feel much like joking, the jester was required to make witty and perhaps mocking remarks to restore perspective and downplay the seriousness of life.

If you can’t afford your own court Jester… Did you ever think to check your local comedy club?

 

Embracing the Dark Side

Isn’t it interesting that we don’t tend to laugh at things unless they cause us problems at other points in life. A good joke invariably has a relationship with darkness, anxiety and pain. Why else do we joke so much about relationships, bowel movements, money, politics and sexual problems? Comedy offers us a way of having a better time around things which are otherwise quite painful.

 

Comedy as Therapy for Despair

Let’s face it. Many of our biggest problems don’t have clear solutions. Work is painful, but we can’t escape it. Death is inevitable. All kinds of sh** happens. In The Life of Brian, the closing song brazenly states the worst about existence: ‘Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it’. But instead of making us more aware of our feelings of sorrow, the mood is mocking and refuses to be gloomy; breaking out into the chorus: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.”  Black humour works on the assumption that we tend to despair too soon: that is, the situation feels more hopeless than it really is. It’s genuinely bad, but we experience it as truly catastrophic. “Catastoprhising” is a common cause and feature of anxiety – stay tuned for a future blog post on unhelpful thinking styles and Life Coaching Program.  When we give up hope and surrender our capacity to do what we still can to make things a little better, an ostensibly hard life becomes a life of depression and anxiety.  By mocking dangerous things, humour emboldens us. It helpfully paints what is potentially very frightening as deeply ridiculous.

 

Comedy to Help Manage Humiliation and Foster Empathy

 Life is filled with things which threaten our self respect and risk embarrassment.  Homer Simpson is always doing things that could be seen as absurd, humiliating or embarrassing.  It would be extremely easy to make a very negative assessment of his character as we often do for ourselves and for other people. In The Simpsons, though, this very flawed creature is presented as somehow both flawed and extremely lovable. His wife and Children are conscious of his flaws – they do tease him about his incompetence and they do see him as a bit of an idiot. Yet in their eyes he is a lovable fool. That’s what a lot of comedy helps us with. It turns people (ourselves included) who could just be seen as idiots into lovable fools.  Satirical shows that focus on benevolent stereotypes have often been a source of controversy, yet they teach us to really like someone whom in real life we might have cursed. When we watch the show we are on Homer’s side: we don’t withdraw our sympathy.

 

Comedy as Therapy for Self-disgust and Loneliness

It can be pretty hard to live with ourselves; we’re so painfully aware of the gap between our ideals of how we’d like to be and how we actually are. So often we’re left feeling lonely with our flaws. “Confessional comedy” is where the comedian stands on stage and admits in public that they have all the kinds of faults which we normally feel embarrassed and ashamed about. They interrupt our loneliness by admitting that they too get shy in public, are an embarrassment to their kids, struggle to keep romance alive, have unsavoury desires, have embarrassing medical problems and make mistakes in social situations.  We laugh with relief, as the pent-up anxiety is safely discharged once we realise that it is not only ourselves, but the person on stage, and furthermore the rest of the room, who have all struggled with this same embarrassing problem.  By making these things feel more normal they make them more bearable too.

 

Conclusion

Comedy enables us to cope much better with our own misgivings and disappointments, our troubles around work and love and our difficulties enduring ourselves. Comedy should be in our calendars, our customs, and our institutions,

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below, and stay tuned for our my upcoming interview with one the funniest comedian’s I have ever seen.

-Richard

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