“I really don’t know how I’m going to get through this time.” Those words last week from the mouth of one of life’s positivity champions, my neighbourhood cafe operator, chilled me.
“I could manage the first lockdown, and the second, but now we barely get up and we’re shut down again. I don’t know if I have the energy to keep on getting up.”
Does that sound familiar?
My local barista, who had to make at least 12 coffees a day during the recent lockdown in Brisbane to scrape through and cover costs, is not alone. Many Australians are suffering from what psychologists refer to as COVID fatigue.
We’re anxious. We’re lonely. We’re beyond tired. We’re stressed. We’re grieving lost connections with family and friends, lost milestone events, lost dream trips, lost jobs or business…
Research now coming out of Melbourne’s Monash University says Australians are feeling the effects of restrictions and loss of connection more than the threat of corona virus itself.
Victorians are displaying more clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety than other Australians, and more irritable.
Lots of money is being thrown at mental health services but what if you recognise you’re feeling anxious, a bit down, stressed even, but don’t see yourself needing psychiatric help? Perhaps a proactive mental health wellbeing practice may be beneficial. Cue a little practice called laughter yoga — delivered online.
The yoga that gets you laughing
Laughter yoga has nothing to do with downward dogs while having a giggle.
It’s an exercise program devised by an Indian physician and his yogi wife combining intentional laughter (that means ‘faking it’ initially), playful movement, clapping and deep diaphragmatic breathwork.
Laughter yoga gets you out of your head. When you’re laughing, you are in the moment – and the brain doesn’t differentiate why you’re laughing, it simply reacts by sending messages for a ‘feel good’ chemical release.
Regular laughter yoga exercise has many proven health benefits including:
- stronger immune system
- better breathing
- improved blood pressure
- better mood
- pain management
- better sleep.
Originally a face-to-face group exercise, laughter yoga has been adapted online to support many Australians and enable them to feel more connected, uplifted, and able to keep going.
Soon after initial COVID-19 restrictions came into place in early 2020, I started running laughter yoga sessions via a video-conference platform. Initially the sessions were with people I knew —familiar faces from the weekly park-based laughter club, but within a couple of sessions, ‘strangers’ were zooming in from Mackay to Adelaide, from Melbourne to Portugal.
There was nothing about lockdown to laugh about and yet we could laugh. And we still laugh. Online laughter yoga sessions continue, available every day (mine are on Sundays).
“Laughter sessions help me keep laughing and smiling and feeling good as opposed to being despondent,” says Deb, a Sydneysider who had thought laughter was for good times with good friends – or at least a good episode of Friends with a glass of wine on the sofa.
Laughter yoga as a stress antidote?
Overseas research has shown that laughter yoga as a group practice helps boost resilience and reduces stress.
It helps change perspective and, according to UK researcher Anna Hatchard, equips participants to “better cope with the ups and downs of life”.
When we’re in a laughter yoga session, we unleash playfulness and imagination, along with those stretches and breaths, and leave worries, fears, or troubles in a corner. It’s like kindergarten for grown-ups!
It’s also great to see many business and community organisations booking virtual laughter sessions for their people – to help destress and build connection.
(C) 2021 Heather Joy Campbell
HeatherJoy Campbell is a former medical journalist. She is a certified laughter yoga teacher/trainer who has also undertaken science of happiness studies and works with people/organisations who need help with stress management. The Happydemic, a social enterprise, was spreading wellbeing through laughter seriously long before ‘pandemic’ became part of our everyday language.