Neuroscientist’s top tips for managing stress

The mood of the nation has never been a more significant or topical subject than in a world of zoom calls, face masks, and social distancing. As a result, the news that people have never laughed less will probably come as no surprise. But it’s the extent  of the issue that’s surprising, with studies showing that the average UK adult now spends fewer than two hours a year in total (1 hour and 52 minutes) having a really good laugh. According to researchers, the average UK adult spends four times as much time taking out the garbage as they do laughing*. To put it another way, there’s just a 1 in 5,000 risk of someone bursting into hysterical laughter at a time when it’s needed more than ever.

According to the recent ‘Walkers Power of Humour Report’ by Walkers and neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett, all of this is having a major impact on the nation’s mental health. The study, which included 2,001 people from around the United Kingdom, divided participants into two classes, with the first being shown amusing animal videos curated by Dr. Burnett to evoke feelings of joy and laughter, and the second group asked to answer questions as normal with no video.

One-third of the people in the survey (29%) reported to be stressed at the start of the study, increasing to 41% among 18-34-year-olds. A significant number of people (31 percent) said it was difficult to remain optimistic.

When asked by researchers to imagine themselves in stressful daily scenarios, such as missing the bus, queuing at the store, or taking an exam, the group made to laugh by the videos showed an immediate increase in overall positive outlook* and were 9 percent less likely to feel stressed. The group exposed to the videos were also slightly more able to see the silver lining to these stressful situations (73% vs 69%).

The majority (88%) also reported that laughing over something made them feel better about the day, with the same amount (87%) reporting that just hearing others laugh made them feel better. A comparable proportion (86%) claimed that joking about a difficult situation helped them cope with it better.

Dr Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and lead researcher commented: “The power of humour is clear from this Walkers study and the link is startlingly simple: the more you laugh, the better you feel overall. And we’re not just talking about hysterical laughter. Humour – to whatever extent – has the ability to instantly change lives in that moment, and have a positive effect on both mental and physical wellbeing. From a wry smile to tears rolling down your face, people simply aren’t laughing enough. We understand that sometimes it’s hard to see the funny side, and it’s a very difficult time right now. But the truth is, we hold the power, and you can start small too. Simply pledging to try and see the positive or funny side to everyday situations like missing the bus or accidentally hitting ‘reply all’ on a work email, will have a powerful instant impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.”

Despite the strong ability of humour to boost a person’s mood, people aren’t laughing nearly enough, with two out of five participants (42%) claiming they can’t recall the last time they laughed properly. Of those who remembered, 11% said it had been more than a month since they had a good laugh.

The pandemic has exacerbated this, with a third (31%) of people admitting to smiling and joking less than before, with the news and lifestyle changes making it difficult to see the bright side. A small percentage of people (10%) said they’d never laughed less in their lives.

Furthermore, participants reported the feel-good factor from a good old laugh lasting only 1 minute and 12 seconds, demonstrating the importance of laughing frequently.

The report found that the most stress-inducing everyday activity is running late (69%), followed by taking exams (68%), turning up late to meetings (60%) and speaking to a room full of people (60%). But these activities can include anything that makes a person feel personally anxious.

Funny situations (41%), friends (34%), and partners (29%) rank as the top three things that make people laugh the most followed closely by their children (23%) and pets (22%).

As a result of the findings, Walkers has formed a new alliance with Comic Relief and will establish a fund to support mental health initiatives in the UK. Walkers is holding a ‘Walkers Tweet Relief’ online event for Red Nose Day to kick-start the relationship, asking the nation to get involved and promote positivity through humour. For every tweet using #WalkersTweetRelief Walkers are pledging to donate one pound (GBP) to Comic Relief for Red Nose Day****.

Fernando Kahane at Walkers commented: “Walkers has always been about bringing levity and moments of relief to people’s lives – whether it’s through our products or our campaigns, humour is part of Walkers’ DNA. So as a brand this was a natural territory for us to explore. But we certainly weren’t expecting the results we received. It’s clear that laughter can help us to live a little better every day, so we want to inspire people to treat life with more levity and positivity, and by doing so release some of the tension of modern life. Partnering with Comic Relief will allow Walkers to have a real and positive impact on thousands of people, bringing smiles to everyone in the UK.”

Irina Panescu from Walkers added: “We’re on a mission to spread positivity through humour. We know it’s hard at the moment, and some people are struggling more than ever, so our message is simple – humour is powerful. The more you laugh, or consciously try to see the ‘flipside’ to everyday situations that might be getting you down, the more positive you’ll start to feel.”

 

Dr Burnett’s top tips for reframing stressful situations

  1. Avoid knee-jerk reactions: When something stressful happens, try to avoid responding instinctively. Although the cliche “count to ten” is overused, it can be helpful to not act on your first impulse and instead give your higher (but slower) brain regions a chance to get involved.
  2. Identify the true cause: We are more likely to respond negatively to stress if we have already been stressed out by other factors. Where possible, ask yourself if the thing you’re frustrated at is genuinely that bad, or if it’s more of a ‘last straw’ scenario. 
  3. Imagine telling a friend: Consider how you’d tell a friend about what’s happened to you. We typically put an amusing spin on anecdotes, practicing them ahead of time can help you see it that way.
  4. Try out a chuckle: Laughing out loud at the humorous elements of a difficult situation will make it seem more amusing. Even if it’s just a chuckle, kick-starting the humour response can give it more sway over how you react to things.
  5. Vent to see the funny side: Venting about a stressful situation can be cathartic, but following it up with laughter at the humorous aspects can help you from focusing on the negatives in the long run.

Top 10 Most Stressful Everyday Situations

To find out more, visit www.comicrelief.com or the Walkers Twitter page @Walkers_Crisps

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