Humor to Boost Business Climate

Successful businesses work hard to create a comfort zone for both customers and employees. How can we reduce the fear factor, increase productivity, encourage collaboration, enhance creativity and problem solving, and build relationships? Researchers tell us humor can do all of this and more.

How is this possible? Understanding where they’re coming from:

The brain’s “internal security system” called the “Amygdala” is tagged with keeping us safe and alive. When we encounter a threat, this system flies into action shutting down everything we don’t need for immediate survival—thinking, digesting, empathy, compassion, resting, immune system, social skills, coping, and many others.

Have you ever noticed difficulty with problem solving, decision making, collaboration, productivity, and general well-being while stressed? Laughter releases chemicals that shift our brain’s energy forward to the thinking brain or Prefrontal Cortex. Voila! Mental clarity!

A Brain Workout – Every time you hear a joke:

Just as the body’s muscles can fade when they aren’t exercised regularly, the brain needs challenges to stay sharp. Hearing a joke sets off a split second complex process that extends to other people.

  1. The sound enters your ear.
  2. The Vestibular system sends it to the language center in your left hemisphere
  3. That auditory center makes sense of the words.
  4. The message zips across the Corpus Collosum to the right hemisphere where the right frontal cortex stores social memories.
  5. The hippocampus processes emotion.
  6. Dopamine surges the brain’s reward center (Nucleus Accumbens) and you feel good.
  7. Brain stem takes over the muscles that make you laugh
  8. Your brain spreads the good feelings to others whose brains are “tuned in” to yours.

This explains the “you had to be there” effect when we try to recreate the connection for someone else who didn’t share the original funny experience.

Social Connections

In our own brains, the cells that fire together “wire together” forming connections between them. The same thing happens between people when they share an experience – telling a joke, completing each other’s sentences; their brains fire together, laying the groundwork for relationships. Connections form between two people just as neural pathways between parts of a single brain.  Relationships between friends are strengthened when we laugh together.

Laughter is contagious. At the sound of someone laughing, our own brain responds. Our own internal “Happy Juice Factory” releases – Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins to give us a natural rush—free, legal and no “residual” problems. Rely on laughter early and often!

Creativity – Problem Solving

Several researchers document the benefits of humor on creative thinking. Robyn McMaster’s study noted that finding new connections is at the core of both humor and creativity—so they complement each other.  “In fact, humor is highly correlated with both creativity and intelligence … A dose of humor releases the chemical serotonin in your brain, which improves focus, increases objectivity and improves overall brainpower.”   (A Dash of Humor Ups Performance and Creativity at Work by Robyn McMaster, PhD. Brain Based Biz, Sept 2008)

 

Problem solving improves in a similar way. Exercising the brain through humor keeps it agile and ready to view novel solutions.  (Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving” by Alice M Isen, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, 52, 112-131)

Humor Heals

Finally, the health benefits of humor have been documented for centuries.  Norman Cousins wrote about healing himself of degenerative arthritis during the 1960’s through reading humor books and watching comedy shows– Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin and massive doses of Vitamin C. (Anatomy of an Illness 1990)

In business and in daily life, humor creates healthy resiliency and success. When we can see the humor in challenging situations and poke fun at ourselves, even setbacks have their benefits. “She who laughs, ‘lasts’.”

Print Resources:

  • Humor, stress and coping strategies by Millicent H. Abel (study 2002)
  • A Day in the Life Your Brain by Judith Horstman (2009)
  • Wake Up Laughing by Rachel St. John-Gilbert (2011)
  • “A Dash of Humor Ups Performance and Creativity at Work” by Robyn McMaster, PhD. Brain Based Biz, Sept 2008
  • “Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving” by Alice M Isen, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, 52, 112-131

Online Resources:

  • http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456 April 21, 2016
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/laughter-and-memory_n_5192086.html
  • https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1CHWA_enUS605US605&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=businessolver%20west%20des%20moines
  • Humor boosts overall brainpower. “A dose of humor releases the chemical serotonin in your brain, which improves focus, increases objectivity and improves overall brainpower.” by Andrew Tarvin http://www.humorthatworks.com/benefits/30-benefits-of-humor-at-work/
  • “Give your body a Boost with Laughter” by R Morgan Griffin, WebMD 2012

 

 

Teen Brains: What’s Going On Up There?

College girls napping

Parenting teens tests most parents’ determination to give them what they need—not just what they want. We hope to provide practical tips to help you along the way in this most important—but very challenging responsibility. Hang in there!

Our Teens Need:

  • Respectful communication with parents and with other adults
  • Clear and consistent boundaries, consequences and follow through
  • Practice dealing with the consequences of their own choices
  • Opportunities to explore and create their unique identity
  • Enough rest to allow their brains to mature
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Peer friendships
  • Physical activity, preferably in nature
  • To know we love them and believe in them

The View from Here

How do we keep them in clothes? In food? They are growing so fast! The dramatic physical changes we see are only a sign of huge reconstruction going on inside. Think of the tree we see on a hill. It wouldn’t be able to stand tall without a complex and deep network of roots that are underground, out of sight. The same holds true for the brain.

The changes in the teen brain show up as behavior and relationship changes. The kind, respectful child we love may vanish, only to be replaced by someone we struggle to understand. “What have we done? How can this be?”  Not to worry, it’s only a reflection of normal teen development. Stay the course, keep the door open for communication, let them know they are loved, maintain expectations, boundaries, consequences, and hang on for the ride. It will get better—eventually.

Brain Basics

We all come with 100 billion brain cells as original equipment. Each one has up to 10,000 connections, but less than 25% of them are connected at birth. The child’s interpretation of experiences and interaction with parents and caregivers determine which cells actually connect with others.

Brain as an Ice Cream Cone?

David J. Linden, PhD, John Hopkins University neuroscientist compares the three parts of the brain and their assignments to an ice cream cone. (Readers’ Digest article by Kimberly Hiss “The Beautiful Life of Your Brain” Sept 2014, pp 78-79)

  1. At the top of the spine, we find the “bottom scoop” or brainstem. That part of the brain takes care of survival tasks like circulation, breathing, heartbeat, etc.
  2. The “middle scoop” is the midbrain which processes emotions and creates memory. The “amygdala” issues an “all system’s alert” shifting gears from thinking to feeling when it senses danger is near.
  3. The “top scoop” is the cortex. When we think of the brain, we visualize this folded surface. Thinking and specific jobs are assigned to particular places in the cortex. The front part of the cortex, or prefrontal cortex (PFC) provides self-control and what some call “executive function.”

The PFC is the last part of the brain to be fully developed, making parents wonder “What were they thinking?!” Truth is, most teens are working with only part of the equipment they need to carefully consider choices and consequences. They need boundaries, consequences, and communication with parents and other adults to head off their sometimes impulsive behavior.  Kids also need to find their own identity at the same time. No wonder why teens and parents experience conflict.

Building Blocks

Let’s look at the brain as an electrical system with several parts processing information from our senses.

  • First, our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, tongue and nose bring messages from our world into brain cell branches or dendrites.
  • They then pass the electrical message on to the neuron the central part of the Brain Cell.
  • A cable or axon then carries the information on to the next cell. The axon is protected like an electrical cord with a blanket of fat called myelin, made from omega 3 fats from foods we eat. Myelin makes the message “zip” onto the next brain cell much faster than it would without the protective coating. Myelination or wrapping it with this fat layer is the last stage of development. Until that is finished, teen’s thinking often appears—and is—“scattered”. Researchers have determined this process is incomplete until mid-twenties or later. That should clear up some things.
  • Neurotransmitters enter the gap or synapse between dendrites, acting on the impulse before it reaches its next destination. Some speed the message along, while others slow it down.

What’s Going on up There?

Living with a teen can feel a bit like revisiting their “terrible twos”—only with a bigger world and higher stakes. That’s because some of the processes are the same. The brain goes through phases of blossoming—creating huge numbers of new dendrites—and pruning clearing away the connections that haven’t been strengthened through repeated use.  The use-it-or-lose-it principal is at work. The unused and unsaved connections are removed to make room for more complex structures. It’s a good thing!

Vulnerable Brains

Huge changes going on in a teen’s brain make them particularly vulnerable to hazards. Fortunately, athletic organizations have responded to research by ramping up screening and precautions to protect players from concussions.  Alcohol, tobacco and drugs also present significant threats to kids’ developing brains. Research shows that damage to the brain can last a lifetime.

Online resources provide more information:

http://www.drugfree.org/why-do-teens-act-this-way/

http://www.eauclairewi.gov/departments/health-department/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drug-use/start-talking

David Walsh, psychologist and bestselling author of “Why Do They Act That Way?” helps parents struggling with their teens. He told one dad, “When you feel like taking the wind out of his sails, it is a better idea to take your sails out of his wind.”  (Why Do They Act That Way? p 47, Free Press – 2004)

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart! Hang in there—this too shall pass. Just love them.

This is an adaptation of an article written by Sandra Stanton for the Chippewa Falls Teen Brain Summit,  first published in the Chippewa Herald, June 9, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Restful Sleep Naturally

It's better together.Rumble strips jolted me back from drowsy driving on my afternoon commute.  The sun and hum of the road had lulled me into a trance after I sat down for the first time all day. The bridge rail came way too close for comfort. Guess I need to get better sleep at night.

 

A study recently released by the National Sleep Foundation cites 27% of adults are sleep deprived. Another of their studies cites 1/3 of American adults are losing sleep over the economy. Most of us struggle occasionally, so I’ve personally tested steps to make falling asleep easier. Here’s what worked for me:

1. TV and internet before trying to sleep

Our eyes, ears and brains are very active while we’re focused on electronic screens—translating pixels and sound bytes into thoughts, pictures, emotions and words.

Some even fall asleep with the TV on. That light blocks the brain from relaxing into the deep sleep that restores the body and brain.

Many people choose the printed page or e-reader instead. The words stay put, and our imagination supplies the pictures. Cool-down time for eyes and brains helps us relax and drift off to dreamland. You’re on your own if you choose suspenseful novels.

2. Consider Circadian Rhythms

During seasonal changes—especially this year– many folks struggle with fatigue. Our body’s circadian rhythms—or body clocks–take some time to reset when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. Traveling through time zones and getting up with children also compromise consistent zzzz’s. The body’s systems work better when they know what to expect.

3. Pump it up early

Walking, Pilates and Yoga keep my Fibromyalgia under control most days. When I miss stretching, my body protests. On days when I don’t get enough exercise, particularly outdoors, I have trouble falling asleep. During and following activity, the heart pumps oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, which then seem happier—provided I don’t overdo it. If I exercise too close to bedtime, I have trouble wind down. Returning to a resting heart rate takes time after a workout, so I pump it up earlier in the day.

4. Be gentle

Raiding the fridge before bed? Choose carefully if you’d like to sleep well. Sending more than 400 calories to your digestive system before going to bed is asking for heartburn and wakefulness—for many of us. That pizza or big bowl of ice cream doesn’t work for most folks. Something light with carbs might help set it free to rest.

5. Easy Does it.

During sleep, the brain sorts and files all the experiences and information we’ve packed in during the day, saving the important stuff and discarding the rest. If we go to sleep still chewing on regrets or worries, that filing job doesn’t stand a chance.

Just when a good night’s sleep seems urgent for a clear head the next day, I can count on waking up in the middle of the night. The insistent message gets stuck in my head: Get back to sleep!  You don’t have much time…sleep fast!  Shift the focus… I’m glad that I’m at least I’m getting some rest. Thinking positive and listing blessings instead of sheep might work. After 20 minutes of struggling to fall asleep, try getting up and doing something else for a little while. A magazine or journal might help clear the chatter and clear the way for some real rest.

6. One muscle at a time

Progressive relaxation usually helps too. Lying flat in bed it’s easy to scrunch up one set of muscles—say the head and face—hold it with the breath, then completely relax on the exhale. Every muscle in the body communicates with the brain. Moving through the body with this process sends a clear signal to the brain to let go of the day’s stress.

These tips could also rescue our mental health and relationships. We become impatient with ourselves and cranky with everyone else when our brains don’t get enough deep sleep. Processing all the day’s information and emotions is the brain’s main job while we turn the thinking off.  It’s busy choosing what to keep and file into long-term memory, and what to toss. Without enough sleep to clean up the “filing cabinet”, my brain feels as cluttered as the top of my desk looks.

Waking up naturally refreshed is priceless. The new day has so much to offer when we can be fully present and tune in to all the details. Creating a sleep routine that works best for you can be challenging, but your body and brain will thank you.  Who knows, family, colleagues and friends might wonder what you’ve been up to. How does an oatmeal raisin cookie and small glass of milk sound to you?

Check out these websites for more specific information to be your own best sleep detective:

www.sleepfoundation.org National sleep foundation offers tips to help establish a sleep routine.

www.webmd.com Web MD provides links to other websites for additional tips and sleep aids.

© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC
 For additional articles and information, visit www.ourbrainbuddies.com or send an email sandi@ourbrainbuddies.com