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Health and Wellbeing - Nov 2017

06 Nov 2017

Laughter, the key to working together

By Tomas Jajesnica

How do the 60,000 people who work in the Docklands area usually mark Christmas?

With an office disco, or ping pong or bowling or trivia or fancy dress, and … drinks? Or maybe just a drinking marathon? The thinking is “we have worked hard and it’s time to relax”.

Who could argue with that?

I’m not going to suggest a teetotal office party – this is still Australia and there’s no harm in sharing a few drinks. But in addition to the usual “letting loose”, smart workplaces are also reflecting on 2017 with laughter sessions – simple group activities that have proven mental health benefits and are also truly unforgettable bonding sessions.

Busting Christmas stress in a fun way

Team laughter sessions are a great way to dissolve stress and break down barriers that might have built up, or soften relationships that might have strained, in that stressful rush to finish projects before Christmas.

I have seen this from running more than 1000 corporate meditation and/or laughter sessions with Docklands employers – from big four banks to finance sector giants to big corporate law firms to Victorian state government departments.

At first, laughing out loud with colleagues feels weird, but try it and you will be a true believer. Laughter energises people and creates a great atmosphere that lasts for hours, sometimes days and even weeks. It brings people together.

Even in neutral, respectful offices – especially in such cultures – a laughter session reinforces existing bonds and makes it much easier to approach colleagues we don’t know well, and it helps when collaboration is called for. In short, laughing together for 30 minutes flows into better working relationships.

I’m hesitant to use that well-worn cliché – the one about laughter being “the best medicine” – but I can’t avoid it because it’s absolutely true. And it’s possibly more relevant in the workplace than anywhere. The feedback I have received is that people who laugh together work better together.

How laughing together affects us

We know instinctively that laughter is good for us, but science has also proven what it does to our bodies. It has been shown to improve cardiovascular function and help strengthen our immunity and endocrine system – which produces the hormones needed to regulate (among other things) sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood.

Laughter also shuts down the flow of stress hormones running through our bodies.

Research has also shown that when laughter is “benevolent” – laughing “with” rather than “at” others – it is especially rewarding. Undeniably, laughing together has social benefits. Who hasn’t felt the relief of laughing just because the person you are looking at is laughing? Those are ancient cues at work, all about strengthening bonds in a group or family.

When laughter is done deliberately, there are measurable benefits – perhaps most obviously but maybe most importantly, it reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. It does this by lifting levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter needed for experiencing wellbeing and calmness.

Depression and anxiety are by far the most common mental health issues and can have serious impacts on productivity and workplace culture.

Silence and laughter

Meditation can be combined with laughter – not in the same moment of course – for a double helping of good mental health.

In our ‘silence and laughter’ sessions, we begin with a few minutes of meditation, to calm the mind.

Meditating by concentrating on your breathing produces feelings of calm and clarity and can improve the focus of a mind that has gotten too busy.

A busy mind can be a sign of anxiety, but with practice we can train our minds to slow down, to recognise and assess thoughts – even disregard unhelpful thoughts – instead of getting caught up in worry and racing, circling thoughts.

Research into meditation over many years, from around the world, has shown a regular practice reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves sleep and can even help reduce chronic pain.

Once we have slowed down our busy minds, we are in a good place to get the most out of the laughter sessions.

A combined practice of silence and laughter, especially in a group setting, is a gift to staff and to the business – by creating optimum conditions for teamwork through bonding and clear thinking.

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