Karyn Buxman

Catching Up With Karyn

Posts Tagged 'humor and healing'

Laughter is Better than Trans-Fats!

Well, this morning, the FDA has come out and announced that – even though it seems inconceivable that such a thing could be true! – foods rich in trans-fats, which constitute a good portion of the most awesome food groups – fast and fried – might not, in fact, be good for you. Eliminating these foods from our collective food supply is said to be a lifesaving move, one that will have a positive impact on the rates of heart disease and hypertension we’re seeing across the nation.

But I have to say, there may be a problem with this plan. Those trans-fat loaded foods are many people’s favorite comfort foods. When we’re down, when we’re having a rough day, it’s not inconceivable that there’s comfort to be found in the familiar flavors of a cheeseburger and fries. If that’s no longer an option, what can you do to lift your spirits instead?

Laughter is an ideal alternative: it’s completely calorie (and trans-fat!) free. Sure, it won’t help to laugh when you’re hungry. You’ll still want to grab a bite to eat now and then to assuage the hunger pains. But when you’re seeking a way to improve your mood after a really rotten day, laughter will do it. Laughter also improves the circulation and lowers blood pressure: when you’re done laughing, you won’t just feel better, you’ll actually be a little healthier.

Don’t feel bad if you’re frustrated by not being able to enjoy your favorite foods anymore. This lion feels your pain!

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Karyn’s On The January Jones Show!

If you have heart disease or you love someone who does, make sure you check out the January Jones Show. That’s where you’ll find me -Karyn Buxman, RN, neurohumorist, and author of What’s So Funny About… Heart Disease?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Condition– sharing the latest research on humor and healing for the person who has heart disease.

Did you know that laughing for half an hour a day can reduce your bad cholesterol by up to 66%? When you have heart disease, cholesterol control is job number one. Enjoying humor doesn’t replace conventional treatment or prescription medications – but it’s a fun, free and effective way to make successfully managing your heart disease easier.

Listen to the January Jones interview here! If you like what you hear, don’t forget to tell your friends about it on Facebook and Twitter.  Sharing laughter is one way we can improve everybody’s heart health!

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Diabetes Awareness Month: Making Time for Humor

As we celebrate Diabetes Awareness Month, I’d like to share a few thoughts on making time for humor.  We all live extremely busy lives, balancing careers, families, social lives and managing our health care. Days go by at light speed.  We’re always on the go. One minute we’re running here, the next we’re going there, with a million things to do. Our to-do lists are six miles long, on average, and every item never gets crossed off. At this pace, entire days can go by when there’s just no time to laugh.  Those days add up, and before you know it, you’re looking at weeks, even months, without humor.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? For most people, it’s been a while. But as I explain in What’s So Funny About Diabetes?, people with diabetes enjoy significantly better health when they laugh regularly and often. There are multiple ways humor helps us achieve effective diabetes management. Something as simple as laughing at your favorite sit com has been clinically proven to minimize post-meal blood sugar spikes.

How can you break through the busy to incorporate more humor into your life? Try treating yourself to a humor appetizer.  Since we know that laughing prior to meals helps minimize blood sugar spikes later on, make a point of enjoying humor before you eat.  This doesn’t have to be difficult!

If you’re in the habit of checking your emails first thing in the morning (and many of us are!) subscribe to a funny Joke of the Day list and read those before breakfast.  Schedule lunch dates with your funniest friends or co-workers.  Put your favorite sit com on the tv while you’re preparing dinner. (Caution: don’t try to make complicated recipes while watching The Big Bang Theory -it’s really easy for everything to go horribly, horribly wrong. Ask me how I know this!)

What’s your favorite tip for adding humor to your daily routine?

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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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The Neurohumor Notebook

In terms of scientific discovery, we’re living in one of the most exciting times ever. Researchers are doing more and more each day to uncover the relationship between the human experience and our physical well-being.

There are complex biochemical responses – things changing within our bodies, most particularly our brains – when we’re exposed to external stimuli that triggers strong emotional reactions. In other words, when we read a thrilling novel or look at a beautiful painting, something happens inside our brain.  It turns out that that something has a significant impact on how healthy we are.

Ready for some link soup?

This CNN article, What the Brain Draws From: Art and Neuro-Science, takes a long look at how the brain responds to different types of art, and why we may be hard-wired to prefer some patterns to others. Smiling human faces are the most popular type of image in the world – almost everyone loves them. I know I do!

This is Your Brain on Jane Austen looks at the types of brain activity generated when people were reading the world’s greatest novelist for pleasure, and then intently, as if studying for an exam. Stanford researchers are suggesting the intent reading does more to stimulate the brain, and can perhaps even promote cognitive health.

The topic of brain fitness and flexibility is becoming increasingly interesting as we, as a culture, look forward to increasing numbers of people facing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. As a proponent of humor and healing, I have to say knowing there are steps we can take to keep ourselves healthy is good news.  Knowing those steps are fun and enjoyable? That’s even better.

Today’s Joke:

A vampire bat came flapping in from the night covered in fresh blood and parked himself on the roof of the cave to get some sleep.

Pretty soon all the other bats smelled the blood and began hassling him about where he got it.

He told them to go away and let him get some sleep but they persisted until finally he gave in.

“OK, follow me” he said and flew out of the cave with hundreds of bats behind him.

Down through the valley they went, across a river and into a forest full of trees.

Finally he slowed down and all the other bats excitedly milled around him.

“Now, do you see that tree over there?” he asked.

“Yes, Yes, Yes!” the bats all screamed in a frenzy.

“Good” said the bat, “Because I sure didn’t!”


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Humor & Healing: Time & Taboos

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” George Bernard Shaw

You know what day it is today.  You know it, despite the fact that it’s been 11 years.  You know it, despite the fact that the New York Times and the New York Post aren’t treating the anniversary as a front page story this year.  You know what day it is today.

Is it a day to laugh?

One of the questions that comes up often in discussions about therapeutic humor – leveraging the healing power of laughter to help us cope better and more effectively with trauma and stress – is if there are any topics that are off-limits, where laughter is taboo.  It’s a question that comes up especially at this time of year, when people are confronted, once again, with the memories of a uniquely painful event.

Humor & Healing: What’s The Relationship

Before we talk about whether or not it’s appropriate to laugh about the events of a particular day, it helps to understand why people want to. The urge to laugh about horrific events is deeply ingrained human behavior. Researcher Bill Ellis discovered people joking about 9/11 within a day of the event – a time at which much of the world wasn’t even certain what had happened yet. Most of the humor was targeting those who attacked us.

This use of humor is, among other things, a demonstration of people’s determination to regain and exert a sense of personal control and autonomy in a world where suddenly everything had changed. In an environment where people feel uncertain and uneasy, you will see a significant portion of them use humor to make themselves feel better.

That use of humor can, however, make other people feel worse about the situation. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried got hostile responses multiple times throughout his career when he told jokes about traumatic events, including 9/11 and the Indonesian Tsunami. It was, his critics said, too soon.

Time & Taboos: Humor Research That’s Changing Our Understanding

Researchers from the Humor Research Labs at the University of Colorado at Boulder are investigating the relationship between time and humor, particularly as it relates to traumatic events. What they’ve found is perhaps not entirely surprising: It takes more time to laugh at severe events than minor events. Joking about stubbing your toe is a lot easier and more intuitive than laughing about the fact your house burned to the ground.

The researchers were working with individuals, examining traumatic events in their personal lives. However, not all tragedies play out on a solitary stage.  Some events impact many people – entire nations, if not the entire world – all at once. Not all of those people have the same emotional distance from the event. For some people, who lost loved ones that day, it may never be possible to enjoy any humor related to 9/11. They are too close; the trauma was too severe. Other people, at a greater distance physically and emotionally, may find that humor makes it easier to process some of their emotions about the day.

Should you laugh on a day now stained with the memories of tragedy? The private use of humor, for your own entertainment and stress-relief, is most certainly appropriate.  Should you share that humor with others? That decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. Be mindful of your audience’s relationship with the events of 9/11. If humor is going to hurt, it’s really not funny. If humor is going to help, embrace it.

I’d like to end with these words from Dr. Deepak Choprah, speaking about this day last year. “For me and my family personally, September 11 was a reminder that life is fleeting, impermanent, and uncertain. Therefore, we must make use of every moment and nurture it with affection, tenderness, beauty, creativity, and laughter.”

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What’s So Funny About Blood Sugar Control?


For a long time, we’ve heard that too much sugar can make you larger. But did you know that too much sugar can also make you smaller? Researchers from the Australia National University have found that people who consistently experience high blood sugar levels (although not necessarily high enough to trigger concerns of diabetes or even pre-diabetes) are more likely to experience shrinkage of the hippocampus and amygdala.The health and size of these two brain structures has significant bearing on the development of many cognitive concerns, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In other words, blood sugar control’s not just for diabetics anymore! Keeping your blood sugars in the ideal range (this varies, of course, with individual circumstances, but numbers between 80-100 are good to see!) is great news for anyone who wants to protect their mental health and intellectual agility.

There are many ways to control your blood sugar. Watching your diet and exercising regularly can do great things for your blood sugar control.  It’s also a good idea to do lots of laughing. Humor benefits our physical and emotional health. Laughter lifts the mood and helps restore emotional resiliency. It can also play a significant role in blood sugar control.

Check out this story from the Huffington Post highlighting the healing power of humor as an effective way to achieve better blood sugar control. Researchers have found that laughing heartily after a meal can help control blood sugar spikes. That means if you’re out for dinner and a show with your sweetie, choose a comedy – you’ll have a great time laughing while managing your blood sugar!

Staying in? Watch a funny movie at home.  Some of our favorites:

Clue: The Movie

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Bride of the Monster

A Christmas Story

We can’t always eat a perfectly healthy diet. There are days when it’s really hard – almost impossible – to get a workout in.  Laughter, on the other hand, is always available, 1005 portable, and totally free.  Make a point of enjoying humor every day. It’s one of the best things you can do to control your blood sugar levels – good for your health now and in the years to come!

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What’s So Funny About Alzheimer’s? One for the Caregivers

I think that one of the hardest things for any of us who has cared for a parent or loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease is the knowledge that the condition has a genetic component.  It’s one thing to be there, helping someone else navigate once-familiar neighborhoods or making sure they’ve remembered to shut the front door. It’s another thing entirely to contemplate needing that type of assistance ourselves. Caring for my Mother made me think about my own future in a way I never really had before.  Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing.

How Humor Helps Caregivers: Facing the Future

None of us know the future in advance. We can’t peek around tomorrow’s corner and see what is going to happen. Every day, it seems, medical science has a new theory on what factors contribute to Alzheimer’s.  A week doesn’t go by that we’re not told about the preventative measures we should be taking to stave off the disease.

The last time I checked, that meant more red wine, more chocolate, less red meat, more exercise, more sex, more intellectual stimulation, and less stress…one day, I tried combining all of these into a single afternoon. I don’t think they’re ever going to let my husband and I back into the TED conference ever again!

We’d all love to know that we, ourselves, will never struggle with Alzheimer’s. Humor has a role to play in helping us face down the fear and anxiety that comes – sometimes below the radar, sometimes ‘off screen’, where we’re not even consciously aware of it – that comes with being a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s. Humor is the mechanism humanity has developed to process our fear, enabling us to move on and continuing function – especially in situations where we really have no alternative!

When I saw this image on Facebook this morning, I laughed right out loud. Yes: this little cartoon forced me for a moment to revisit those anxiety-provoking thoughts of “What’s going to happen to me someday?”  But at the same time, there’s a message in there: life will go on. We will have good times.  Things might change along the way, but we’re still going to have fun. These messages are more important to who we are – more central to our well-being – and they help put the fear into a fresh, more manageable perspective.

Sometimes we feel like we should never, ever laugh about Alzheimer’s, or the impact that this debilitating condition has had on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. In fact, the opposite is true.  Humor is an important tool that allows us to be better, more present, and more emotionally stable caregivers – for our loved ones and for ourselves!


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