Karyn Buxman

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Archive for October, 2012

The Neurohumor Notebook: Getting Serious About Playtime

 Humor is essential for effective diabetes management. Whether you have Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes, or have been told you’re pre-diabetic, you want to have humor in your routine, right along with testing your sugar and your morning workout. Consider your time laughing and playing as much a part of your diabetes management as counting carbs and making sure you have testing supplies. The British Psychological Society recently published an article looking at the way mothers and children play together.  Play can accomplish some really important things. It is by playing that we develop our creative imagination and build the ability to solve complex and challenging problems. Additionally, play elevates the spirit and provides a joyful experience, critical for our ongoing emotional stability and well-being. But are all types of play equally beneficial? Does the type of play activity we engage in and the toys we use to play with impact the positive impact play can have in our life? These are the questions researchers Michaela B. Wooldridge and Jennifer Shapka investigated.  You can read about their work here. Sometimes Low-Tech Is Best One of the interesting aspects of this study is that there was an observable difference in the way the mothers play with electronic and non-electronic toys. Playtime spent with non-electronic toys tended to be freer and more imaginative, whereas playtime spent with electronic toys spent to be more focused on doing what the toy was designed to do. Researchers think that this may have an impact on children’s developing creative imagination and problem solving skills. Another factor to consider is the impact this type of play has on the parents. We all need our creativity, imagination, and sense of joy with the world too! Whether you’re playing with the kids, or enjoying yourself on your own, choose low-tech options for at least some of your entertainments. Electronic toys (which includes the phone and video game console!) have their place, but balance is important.

  • Learn how to juggle – it’s impossible to practice without a smile on your face!
  • Sidewalk Chalk: Go outside and spend a few minutes decorating your porch, patio, or sidewalk with colorful illustrations
  • Silly Sunglasses and a Fake Mustache: Use costumes and props to change up your appearance just for fun

Learn more about how you can harness the power of play to better manage your diabetes in What’s So Funny About Diabetes?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Disease.

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Is Trying To Be Happy Stressing You Out?

There’s an important article by Brock Bastian, just now appearing in The Conversation, entitled “Is the promotion of happiness making us sad?” If you’re living with diabetes, heart disease, or any other chronic condition, I’d really encourage you to take a look at it.

What you’ll find there is an examination of the pursuit of happiness.  Could anything be more American? We’ve even enshrined the words in our Declaration of Independence.  We’re a people that wants to be happy.If we’re not happy, there’s a tendency to pathologize that state – treating negative emotions as something that needs to be addressed with medication or therapy. Tremendous social pressure is placed on individuals to act as if they were happy, even if they’re not. We’re told to smile, and the whole world smiles with you.

Yet it turns out that the unrelenting pursuit of happiness, to an extent that it crowds out any other emotional state, such as sorrow or anxiety, can be counterproductive. Bastian’s research indicates that perceived “social expectancies” not to feel sad were associated with increased negative emotions, depression and reduced well-being. When people think society generally doesn’t accept sadness or that other people expect them not to experience or express their sadness, they have more negative emotions on a weekly basis. They’re also more likely to report symptoms of depression and lower satisfaction with their lives.

Life With Chronic Illness: The Pressure To Be Positive

Does this sound familiar? If you’re a person living with diabetes, heart disease, or an invisible disability, it’s entirely possible that you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve been told to cheer up, smile through the pain, or just put on the rose colored glasses already by people who have absolutely no idea what you’re going through.

Barbara Ehrenreich addresses this phenomenon in scathing detail in her book, Smile or Die. Her experience with breast cancer brought her face to face with the positive psychology movement, where any of the inconvenient details of cancer – the fact that this disease may, in fact, kill you, and that you’ll have days of pain and sorrow unlike any you’ve ever known – are brushed away under a pink carpet of optimism.  Part of Ehrenreich’s message is that this is not okay.

You might be surprised to discover I agree with her.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m the world’s biggest cheerleader for the healing power of humor. I’ve seen the research that delineates the positive physical benefits that result from sustained periods of vigorous laughter.  The ability to minimize blood sugar spikes, more effectively control blood pressure, and lower overall stress levels through the no-cost, always available, totally portable mechanism of laughter is a critical tool for anyone living with chronic illness. However, just because a tool is critical doesn’t mean it’s the only tool in the toolbox, nor does it mean you have to use it every minute of every day.

Diabetes is tough. Heart disease is tough. Invisible disabilities, such as lupus, arthritis, and fibromyalgia are tough. Breast cancer is tough.  Part and parcel of these conditions is the fact that there are going to be really bad days.  There are going to be days full of pain and sorrow and grief.  It is neither appropriate nor helpful to try to deny these days out of existence. Ignoring the fundamental realities of our own health experience does not help us get better, nor live life more comfortably.

Bastian discusses the emerging embrace of “acceptance” of the current emotional state as necessary and appropriate for the individual’s needs.  There is obviously a need for balance: a sustained depressed state will impact your physical health in a negative fashion.  The key word here is sustained. Being able to acknowledge and experience the down times associated with chronic illness, with the support of a network that doesn’t try to audit and control your emotional response, is important.

There is a time for sorrow, and there is a time for laughter. My message for you today is this: Only you get to decide what that time is for you. If you can laugh today, great! But if you can’t, that’s okay too. The world is a funny place, and the humor will be there when you’re ready for it.

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What’s So Funny About Diabetes: Keeping Perspective

Diabetes screening may not lower overall death rate!” the headline screams, reporting the latest insights from a 10-year British study.  This is the type of headline that highlights the value of humor. It’s way too easy to get depressed when all the messaging you hear is negative and down-beat. This takes a toll on your emotional health, obviously, and it can be bad news for your physical well-being.

Feelings of despair, hopelessness, fear, and frustration can manifest as cardiac problems. Sustained emotional stress has long been identified as a factor in cardiac disease. As you know, as a person with diabetes, you’re already at higher risk for heart disease, and more serious heart disease, than a person who doesn’t have diabetes.  (You may have heard the term Diabetic Heart Disease. You can learn more about that here.)

Humor and Healing: Understanding Sarcasm and Dark  Humor

You can use humor to help counter the feelings of depression and anxiety that can arise upon reading gloom and doom headlines about life with diabetes.  Sarcasm has its place. Upon reading the diabetes screening may not lower overall death rate headline, more than one reader was provoked to reflect that of course screening doesn’t stop people from dying…stepping off of this mortal coil is on everyone’s to-do list.

This type of sarcastic, darker humor points out an uncomfortable truth about everyone’s existence while considering one’s individual circumstances. It’s a type of ‘re-framing’, adjusting one’s mental perspective on a situation in order to be able to better deal with it emotionally. This type of observational humor can make people uncomfortable. Sometimes people will say this humor is dark, or too dark. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value!  Even bitter laughter lowers stress levels, improving circulation and promoting cardiovascular health.

“I only sing in the shower. I would join a choir, but I don’t think my bathtub can hold that many people.
” – Jarod Kintz

Learn More About Humor and Healing

If you’d like to learn more about the best ways to use humor to manage your diabetes more effectively, you’ll want to readWhat’s So Funny About Diabetes?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Disease It’s a short, simple, fun to read guide teaching you how to make the Humor Habit part of your health care routine. Changing your life has never been so much fun.


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Does Humor Really Make Coping With Cancer Easier?

This morning, I read a powerful piece in the Chicago Tribune  Written by Liz Brown, When Funny Business Crosses The Punch Line is a intimate, personal examination of the role humor had in Liz’s life as she supported her sister Lynn through her battle with breast cancer.

What’s fascinating here is that even though Liz admits she often ‘veers toward humor’ when coping with life’s challenges, there were times – especially after her sister passed away –  where the funny t-shirts and jokes provoked emotions other than amusement.She responded more favorably to some humor than others, and noted that her enjoyment was related in part to who was sharing the humor.  A funny t-shirt worn by a woman who survived breast cancer provoked some smiles; a sign held by a teenaged boy who appeared to be a relatively disinterested party, not so much.

Humor and Healing: Understanding the Power of the Bond

This is a good illustration of how important the bond between individuals becomes when humor is involved.  Liz Brown, it appears, didn’t know either the t-shirt wearing woman nor the sign-holding boy, but it was easier for her to appreciate the humor of the person she felt was most similar to herself; someone who shared the solidarity of a shared diagnosis. Bonds are important. If the bond is not there, or perceived to be there, humor can feel crass, demeaning, or insulting – even if that was never the intention of the individual using the humor.

When you’re using humor yourself, be aware of the Bond you have (or may appear to have!) with your audience.  Look for points of commonality. Where do you connect? Are they work colleagues? Are they neighbors (close neighbors vs. casual neighbors?) High school pals? Drinking buddies? Do you have a close relationship with the listeners, or are you not so sure of what will make them laugh? In public events, such as breast cancer walks such as Liz Brown writes about, you can not assume that every participant has an experience identical to your own – although there may be similarities.

Humor and Healing: When The Laughter Changes

For me, one of the most powerful aspects of Liz Brown’s article is the way her view of humor changed as her sister’s condition progressed.  In the beginning, when her sister was freshly diagnosed, humor provided a distraction. This is one of the most powerful ways humor helps us cope with cancer.  Taking our mind off of the overwhelming experience of a breast cancer diagnosis – if only for the moments it takes to snicker at a silly t-shirt – provides respite for overtaxed mental and emotional health resources. This type of break helps bolster the emotional resiliency essential to fighting cancer, while also positively impacting overall physical health.

After Liz’s sister passed away, finding the humor wasn’t as easy. It is okay if your relationship with humor changes with your experience.  These changes can happen day-to-day: the coffee mug you find hysterical one morning may be the same one that gets flung across the room the next. Cancer follows its own trajectory, and we’re along for the ride whether or not we like it. That means there’s going to be days when it’s easy to laugh and there are going to be days when laughter is impossible. Don’t beat yourself up over this! Humor is an intensely personal experience.  There’s no right way or wrong way to laugh. If it makes you feel better to laugh, go ahead and laugh.  If it makes you feel worse, skip it!



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