Stress at Work

Laughing in the Face of Change: How Resilient Professionals Cope

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Change in the workplace can stir up anxiety, sadness, a sense of loss, frustration, anger and fear. Even small changes can challenge our sense of competence and test our ability to cope.

“Change makes us confront our fear of exposure,” says motivational humorist Mark Gorkin, The Stress DocTM. “It can be especially difficult for people who function at a high level and who need to have a sense of control. There’s usually a learning curve involved, and because we place such high demands on ourselves, we can feel uncomfortable or inadequate during that adjustment period.”

Gorkin’s book, Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing In the Face of Stress, Burnout and Depression and his related workshops focus on techniques for creatively managing stress in times of change.

“One of the things I encourage people to do when they are facing stress related to change is to learn to poke fun and laugh at themselves,” Gorkin says. “When we can do that kind of self-effacing humor, it’s a sign of self acceptance. It’s also a show of courage. It lets others know we’re OK with not being perfect. Those awkward moments can then be turned into stories we share with the group that’s going through the same experience. When you start laughing together at the absurdity of a situation, it breaks the tension and helps release pent-up anxiety.”

A flexible funny bone is a part of every resilient professional’s anatomy. “The ability to laugh in the face of change helps us accomplish several things,” says motivator and humorist Karyn Ruth White, owner of Denver-based Laugh and Learn Productions. “It demonstrates to us that even in the midst of the unknown, we can still control our response to it. Being able to find the humor in a fearful or stressful situation allows us to maintain some perspective on that situation and our role in it.”

“The gift of perspective opens the door of possibility,” White continues. “If I can see the humor in something, I can see that there are several ways to look at the same situation. Once I know that, I can then objectively chose how I wish to see it. Being aware that we have a choice of response gives us a sense of power and control in a situation where it is easy to feel powerless.”

White, co-author of Your Seventh Sense, How To Think Like a Comedian, says she wishes more people saw humor as a powerful sanity-management tool rather than thinking of it as a frivolous, counter-productive activity. “I wish as humans, we made laughter a priority in our lives. Laughter is tonic for the soul and I see a lot of thirsty people out there.”

Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc,