As an engineer, I am obsessed with efficiency. Ever since I can remember, I’ve tried to do things as efficiently as possible, or really since before I can remember, because I was born three weeks early. Even in the womb I was trying to do things quickly.
This has led to spending a significant amount of time on researching how to be as productive as possible and one thing I’ve found is this: it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead. Or if you feel like death. If you’re sick, tired, burned out, stressed out, or just “can’t even” right now.
For many, chronic work stress is the cause of many of these issues. The constant work deadlines, shifting goals, reduced funding, shrinking workforces, and far too much email, all lead to 55% of Americans feel stressed about their lives.
Luckily it doesn’t have to be this way because humans have a particularly effective tool for counteracting the negative effects of stress. No, I’m not talking about alcohol, but humor.
For all the negative effects of stress—muscle tension, high blood pressure, snapping at your co-worker, Susan—humor is the antidote. Humor relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, and helps build a strong, positive relationship with all of the Susans in your life.
There are three ways humor can help combat day-to-day work stress – I call them the 3 R’s:
Reframing Stressful Situations
The first humor strategy for managing stress is reframing. When presented with a stressful situations, there’s often two ways to react to it. And, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “Laughter and tears are equal responses to frustration. I, myself, prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards.”
Sometimes simply reframing a stressful situation into a humorous experience can help reduce the tension of stress. Rather than dwelling on why a situation is so terrible, find a way to find the humor in it.
Changing the way you think about a stressful activity or event can help you stop feeling stressed in the first place.
Relieving Stressful Experiences
Chances are, you won’t be able to reframe everything you have to do into something fun. If you have to fire someone, you probably don’t want to reframe it as a time to practice your Frozen parody: “I’ve got to let you goooo, let you goooooo, I can’t pay you back anymore.”
The third way to manage stress is to be deliberate in relieving stress after getting stressed. Exercising and meditating are great ways to do this, as is finding an excuse to laugh. If you had a long meeting, watch a funny YouTube video for a quick laugh. If you’re working on a stressful project, take a break with a book. If it just hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year, hang out with some Friends. The important thing is that when you have a stressful experience, you do something to relieve it.
Recharging from Stressful Times
There are times, however, where no matter how good your sense of humor, you’re going to have prolonged stressed (such as when working against an important deadline or spending the weekend with the in-laws).
When these situations occur, you can prevent the negative effects of chronic stress by recharging your mind and body with humor. This practice of strategic renewal helps you come back to you work re-energized and re-focused.
To recharge with humor, find time for short breaks to use or experience humor throughout the day. Just like rebooting a computer, you can refresh yourself by watching a comedy video, going for a walk, or laughing with your peers. Then, when you come back to your work, you’ll be less stressed and more engaged with your work.
One way to do this systematically is by following the Pomodoro Technique. To do this, start a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Don’t take any breaks (not even to check email and definitely not to check Instagram). Then when the timer goes off, set it for 5 minutes to do any type of recharge activity you want: watch a YouTube video, call a friend, solve a Rubik’s cube (hey, it’s fun to me!).
When the timer goes off again, set it for 25 minutes and go back to work. Alternate between increments of 25/5 (or 50/10) for your work day and you’ll stay energized and focused no matter the task.
With these three humor strategies, reframing, relieving, and recharging, you can find ways to feel alive and remain productive, both in work and in life.