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When Laughter Does Not Come Easily

The surge of emotions.

During the middle ages, the court jester was often summoned to try and lift the monarch out of an angry or melancholic mood. Emotional problems were hardly the choice of the king. Uneasiness was an inescapable load, borne by the crowned head. Neither did this burden spare the citizen. In more recent times, science has confirmed the subversive power of emotions, emanating from a region called the limbic system, buried deep within the brain. Being a more primitive part of the brain, this region is reported to be the seat of emotions. Electrical stimulation of neurons in this region caused you to feel anger, fear, or shame. More often than not, the wide range of feelings and emotions, generated by this region, control our actions. Such responses of the mind were reported to occur within a bare 20 milliseconds.

A spontaneous event.

Paul Ekman, the famous emotions scientist, reported that the evaluation that turned on an emotion happened so quickly that people were not aware it was occurring. "We become aware a quarter, or half second after the emotion begins. I do not choose to have an emotion, to become afraid, or to become angry. I am suddenly angry. I can usually figure out later what someone did that caused the emotion." The nervous system processed all the available information and drove us to anger, or despair, within just half a second. Paul's window was fully open in half a second. Open to a deluge. The book, The Intuitive Algorithm, describes the speed and power of the intuitive process that opens this emotional window.

The stress response.

"I was suddenly anxious." The department was to be "restructured." Termination notices. Rent payments. Overdue bills. The churning had begun. Emotions had intimate links to the body. Anxiety and stress triggered the production of the adrenal hormone cortisol. Adrenaline supported bodily functions designed to cope with the fight or flight response, including increased heart rate. The production of cortisol also initiated one of the most insidious processes in nature. Its excess production was shown to damage the immune system, arteries, and brain cells, and cause premature aging. Across the ages, philosophers sought to reduce the impact of this deadly cycle. Could the anxiety be mitigated, so that the emerging crisis could be evaluated calmly? Medieval medicine believed that emotional imbalance could be corrected by the court entertainers - the fool or jester. Laughter was believed to be an excellent medicine.

Benefits of laughter.

Laughter is, more often than not, triggered by a sudden release of tension. The door opens slowly in a dark room. As you wait with baited breath, a kitten walks in. You laugh. The system relaxes. There is much recent evidence that laughter aids emotional well being and health. A belly laugh is said to result in muscle relaxation. The processe is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm. The workout reduces the hormones associated with the stress response. Decrease in stress hormones relieve constricted blood vessels and support immune activity. It is a wholly beneficial response. Unfortunately, belly laughs are hardly the response of normal people when faced with stressful situations. Laughter is not exactly easy, when you are seething with anger, or sweating in fear. Yet, you need a response to stress, which you can produce naturally.

Cough CPR.

There is such a remedy. It is a simple mechanical response, which can subdue the destructive effects of emotional upheaval. One hint of this possibility appeared in a procedure advocated by Dr. Tadeusz Petelenz at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology to save the lives of people having a type of heart attack brought on by rapid and erratic heart beat. He suggested coughing vigorously until an ambulance arrived. The technique, called cough CPR, forced blood to the brain while the heart was beginning to fail and kept patients conscious long enough to call for help. Other experts said the concept was provocative, but unproven and doubted whether it would have practical value. But, could this process provide a clue to a response to stressful situations?

A simple response.

The muscle movements involved in coughing could also dissipate adrenaline. But, you could hardly cough on receiving a dismissal notice. But, at the first sign of an uneasy emotion, you could pump your stomach. Repeatedly expel air by tightening stomach muscles close to the pelvic area. Stomach pumping helps spread the adrenaline in the system and subdue that tension. It is a practice with endless benefits. When you pump your stomach, the muscles that do not participate in the process, relax. After you finish pumping, those muscles involved also begin to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages. Both beneficial. With habit, it could be a simple, built in response to any stressful event. Long after Paul's window had opened, this habit could help still the unbidden turmoil of your mind. Laughter is not easy. But pumping your stomach is. Even if you find it difficult to laugh in the face of imminent danger, you can still be calm and ready for battle.

Abraham Thomas is the author of The Intuitive Algorithm, a book, which suggests that intuition is a pattern recognition algorithm. This leads to understanding of the powerful forces that control our mind. The ebook version is available at http://www.intuition.co.in. The book may be purchased only in India. The website, provides a free movie and a walk through to explain the ideas.

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