stress kills but laughing it off lengthens your life

Stress kills … how

Stress is the body’s automatic reaction to harmful situations – be that situation real or perceived; a speeding oncoming car or just the thought that you might not make it to the airport in time. Sometimes the perceived or mental situations seem to carry more jeopardy than the real physical treats. Some behavioural psychologists argue that we evolved this mechanism as an early warning survival system – so that the sound of the breaking twig (which may be the approach of a predator or just a family member) triggers a flight or fight response in preparation for the appearance of the sound maker and the possibility of attack, and so we conditioned the brain to jump to conclusion just in case it is a tiger and not your neighbour. Or you may say especially if it is the neighbour. We all have different fears and triggers, be we all have the same potential inbuilt reaction- and that starts in advance of the full facts.

When you feel threatened, this “fight-or-flight,” reaction is automatically switched on, it is a chemical reaction quickens your heartbeat, increases your respiration, tightens your muscles and pumps some adrenalin into the system- raised blood pressure and other side effects occur but the aim of the first four is to get you dramatically alert – you are prepped and pumped now, no mistaking this for a dream, you are on, you have the capacity now to not be startled and caught off guard, you are ready to hit back – to fight – or you have the capacity to sprint as fast as you can in the other direction – flight. Doesn’t matter what decision you take, run or stand up, you have been activated into the full potential of possibly surviving this scenario.

The problem is not every perceived threat turns out to be real, so we don’t get to punch it in the face and release the pumped up aggression or burn off the nervous tension in the rapid retreat – so are left will all this ‘surge’ and nowhere to release it. Shouting at your email, road rage, January sales aggression, panic attacks etc. are all symptoms of this fight or flight response. Fearing the worst diagnosis of a medical test or fretting you have failed your exams is the same thing – the chemical reaction is activated every time you mentally revisit the worst case scenario. Mindfulness can earth that charge, bring you back to control.

Stress was an evolutionary advantage that we didn’t drop. We still need it – but the problem is we engage it with non-life threatening events; low phone battery, running out of milk, shoes not matching belt, what so and so thinks about you, who will make it to the grand finale of celebrity bull fight. We need to disarm it when it’s not really required and save it for the zombie apocalypse, the escaped zoo tiger, the mugger etc. and not PlayStation versions of those scenarios or the petty office politics.

Repeated or prolonged exposure to stress and its body chemistry altering consequences can cause the following
• Aches and pains, including tense muscles
• Clenched jaw and teeth grinding
• Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
• Headaches
• Nausea
• Upset stomach and Gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhoea, constipation, ibs, gerd, gastritis and ulcers
• Loss of appetite or increased comfort eating
• Fatigue and Low energy
• Insomnia
• Menstrual irregularities
• Loss of libido
• Increased flare ups of acne, eczema and psoriasis
• Increased bouts of cold and flu
• High blood pressure
• Cardiovascular disease
• Propensity to depression and self-esteem issues

laughter lengthens life … how

Laughing and doing things that make you happy not only releases endorphins that boost your perception of mental wellbeing but also of physical health. Having a laugh, making light of a dark situation is what tips the balance in your favour of surviving negative episodes in your life. the more we revert to the funny, to the smile, the more we programme our brain to avail of happiness over sadness or despair.

Ok happiness means different things to different people or should I say job satisfaction or communal engagement is not on everybody’s radar. You can be a happy hermit. It is a state of mind, a self-perception – some achieve it by a positive evaluation of their life, some by redefining their expectations of success, some by carefree non-evaluation living, some have work/life balance ticked, others believe it is simply their innate disposition. For certain we can say that happiness is not an equation. For certain we can say that happiness is difficult to measure, but we can all acknowledge that it is easy to recognize. You can’t miss happiness when you see it in others – it shines through. It permeates their whole being.

Happiness is a positive emotion – if you are experiencing it then you are not experiencing negative emotions (which have proven stress/health implications). Happiness generates a sense of wellbeing as well as interrupting sensations of non-wellbeing. It triggers not just psychological but also physiological wellness. Feeling happy decreases awareness of pain but also lower levels of inflammatory gene expression, feeling happy also facilitates stronger antibody responses thus boosting your immune system and further sustaining wellness. Having a laugh, smiling more, doing activities that bring you satisfaction or joy are all life extension tools. I am not just saying it, many studies* show a link between happiness and longevity.


1. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542–575.
2. Diener, E. and Chan, M. Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x
3. Edwards, J. R., & Cooper, C. L. (1988). “The impacts of positive psychological states on physical health: Review and theoretical framework.” Social Science and Medicine, 27, 1447–1459
4. Eric S. Kim, Nansook Park, Jennifer K. Sun, Jacqui Smith, Christopher Peterson, Life Satisfaction and Frequency of Doctor Visits, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2014, 76, 1, 86
5. Sanne M. A. Lamers, Linda Bolier, Gerben J. Westerhof, Filip Smit, Ernst T. Bohlmeijer, The impact of emotional well-being on long-term recovery and survival in physical illness: a meta-analysis, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2012, 35, 5, 538

Further reading

  1. Anderson, N. B. (2003). Emotional longevity: What really determines how long you live. New York: Viking.
  2. Layard, Richard. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. London: Allen lane.
  3. O Nualláin, Fiann (2017) By time is everything revealed. Dublin. Gill Books.
  4. Sternberg, E. M. (2001). The balance within: The science connecting health and emotions. New York: Freeman.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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