Are you feeling squashed by the stress of life today? The pandemic . . . the political polarization and upcoming election. . . kids at home trying to learn remotely, while you try to keep working . . . social injustice . . . the list goes on and on.
It wakes me up in the middle of the night sometimes. And I can go from happy to grouchy to enraged in a split second.
I find myself getting lost in mindless TV and funny dog and cat videos to escape. (My daughter and I trade our favorites, which seem to come from Bored Panda, if you’re interested.)
And I usually end up feeling guilty about wasting my time, when there’s so much I “should” be doing. But now I have a GOOD REASON to watch those videos, and you do too!
One of my favorite podcast hosts published an interview last week with Emily and Amelia Nagoski, the authors of a book called Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. The topic definitely grabbed my attention. Here’s the very short version of what I learned.
Emotions, like stress, rage, sadness, fear, and anxiety cause a neurological reaction in your body—a chemical and electrical cascade throughout your body. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to this physiological process. Just fixing the outside problem or removing the external stressor—which could be kids, work, money, injustice, trauma, pandemics–– that caused the emotion or stress doesn’t address the internal physical problem. If we get stuck in the middle of this cycle and just keep squashing it down, it causes major physical disruption in our bodies.
“You have to do something that signals to your body that you are safe, or else you’ll stay in that state with neuro chemicals and hormones degrading, but never shifting into relaxation. Your digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system and reproductive system never get the signal that they’re safe.” Burnout, p. 7.
So how do you complete the physical cycle? The authors discussed several ways, including: (1) Physical activity––any kind; (2) breathing––focusing on "in and out" for maybe 90 seconds (don’t worry about your thoughts)––just breathing will siphon off most of the physiological effects to down-regulate your nervous system; and (3) positive social connection with other people, which tells your body you’re safe.
So what does this all have to do with cat and dog videos?
Another option for completing the physical stress cycle is laughter–– real, slightly embarrassing, uncontrolled laughter (not just the fake social lubricant/self-deprecating kind of laughter). That belly laugh will take you all the way through the end of a stress cycle. Apparently, it helps just to think about a time you laughed that way.
So when my daughter and I share funny pictures and videos of cats and dogs, they make me smile. And if there are enough of them all in a row, I start to laugh.
And that makes me think of funny times with my own dogs over the years. Like when our Miniature Schnauzer Busty would go absolutely wild and rabid when his litter mate Angus came out of a bath, because he didn’t recognize him. We always had to be sure to keep them apart until Angus was dry and smelled like himself or Busty would try to attack.
Or how they never learned to play with separate toys. They would play fetch with the same toy, each one grabbing a separate end of the same pink bunny.
And the cat videos make me think about my best friend’s cats. Like Carmella, who thinks she’s part dog and throws herself on her back for a tummy rub when I come to visit. Or Suzie who for some reason loves bare feet and will wrap herself around my feet whenever I show up in sandals.
So I put this little video together for you. Watch it and let the smiles turn into laughter. And let the stress flow out of your body.
That’s all. Enjoy. And LAUGH!