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The complexities of modern day life and the perception of what we need to do in one day has shifted us from “human beings” into “human doings.”
Listen to this engaging and entertaining 30-minute teleclass to learn valuable tools to help you “lighten up” and enjoy life more.
“…it’s not about getting people to laugh hysterically, it’s about really becoming more lighthearted about the situation and putting things into perspective, because when we lose our perspective, we lose our way, don’t we?”
Learn strategies and coping mechanisms to:
Become aware of our thinking traps and let go of our inner critics;
Be more present to the present which allows for feeling more inner peace and less stress; and
Explore possibilities to become light-hearted, have more fun and see more humor in the everyday of our existence.
Click play below to listen, or view/ download the complete transcript.
Loretta LaRoche has been a stress management consultant for over 30 years. Her unique approach is the use of humor as a coping mechanism, which has made her a sought after keynote speaker and workshop leader. She has spoken internationally to widely diverse clients such as NASA, The New York Times, Microsoft, JAMA, The American Dental Society, National YMCA and a host of other Fortune 500 companies, hospitals and organizations. She has spoken throughout Canada in conferences, alongside former President Bill Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Anthony Robbins, Gloria Steinem, Laura Bush, Mia Farrow and more, to thousands of participants. LaRoche has been the star of seven PBS shows and the author of seven books, including “Life is Short, Wear Your Party Pants.” Her career path has also included many one-woman shows across the country, and her passion for singing has led her to creating a jazz album. She believes and lives her message, “Life is not a stress rehearsal!”
Conferences for Women
Life is Not a Stress Rehearsal: Practical Tips to Stress Less and Laugh More
Guest: Loretta LaRoche
Interviewer: Karen Breslau
Karen: Welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass, “Life is not a Stress Rehearsal: Practical Tips to Stress Less and Laugh More.” Our guest today is Loretta LaRoche, a stress management consultant for over 30 years. Her unique approach is the use of humor as a coping mechanism. She has spoken to clients including NASA, The New York Times, Microsoft, and a host of other Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, and organizations.
Loretta LaRoche has been the star of several PBS shows and is the author of seven books, including Life is Short, Wear your Party Pants. Her career path has also included many one woman shows across the country, and her passion for singing has led her to create a jazz album. We’ll be sharing highlights for today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation @PennWomen, @TexasWomen, @MassWomen, and in California at #LeadOnCA. And remember, today’s teleclass will be available as a podcast on your conference website. And if you registered through Eventbrite, you will receive an email telling you when the podcast is available. Loretta LaRoche, welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass.
Loretta: Thank you so much Karen. That was a lovely introduction.
Karen: Well good. I’m wearing my party pants today.
Loretta: Oh thank god, we should really wear them every day.
Karen: Can you tell us, first of all, what got you started in this career as a stress management through humor consultant?
Loretta: Well it was a rather [inaudible 00: 01: 35] journey. My degree is in speech therapy and communications, but I didn’t really start working until I got divorced. I had three children and I had to help support them, and my degree was really not going to help me at that time. So I decided to refer back to my dancing background and created a program that incorporated dance with exercise. And it was kind of revolutionary, no one was doing that at that time. But what made it really fly was my sense of humor. I would get people to laugh as they lifted their legs. And then I discussed that many of my clients had problems with stress, so I began studying the science and psychology of stress. I went to New York and did classes with Albert Ellis who is the father of rational and emotive therapy, who was an absolute curmudgeon and fascinating.
And then I also read an incredible amount of work by Dr. Viktor Frankl who developed logotherapy. And it really fit my personality because one of the uses… one of the things he uses is something called paradoxical intention, which is the use of exaggeration to help reframe some distressing thoughts. So my innate ability to detect absurdity became the framework to help others see the comedy that was often inherent in their own irrational thoughts. And I also love to laugh and have been privileged to work with Norman Cousins and Patch Adams, both who find humor to be a therapeutic tool for themselves. And of course Patch helped discover the Gesundheit! Institute where he wanted patients to really feed into healing through nature and laughter and exercise and fun.
And then I became a devotee of Buddhism and I love their insights into the human mind and how our thinking often increases our need to suffer, which is a very Western modality. And my motto is well we’re all going to suffer, why practice in advance?
Karen: But it sounds like you had some terrific mentors along the way.
Loretta: Oh, I was… I’ve been very blessed. I mean, I… you know, I’ve… I’m an author [inaudible 00: 03: 58] so I’ve met Wayne Dyer and Joan Borysenko has been a dear friend of mine for years, and Chris Northrup and a host of other people. I’m just grateful that I’ve been on this journey.
Karen: So let’s talk about stress reduction through humor. One of the things you write about is that we have morphed from human beings into human doings.
Karen: How does that affect our ability to savor life?
Loretta: Well I’d like to just give some background. You know, over a period of time, probably the last 20 years, because when I was growing up people didn’t even discuss stress. You know, my grandmother would cook all day, do shopping, take care of kids, but she never said “Oh my god, I’m so stressed, I’d better go to a spin class.” You know, she just went through the day. And as a result over the years, we’ve become more stressed, overwhelmed, and enjoy fewer leisure hours. And that’s [inaudible 00: 04: 59] from the Carnegie Mellon laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease. People don’t realize that stress diminishes productivity, depressed the immune system, shrinks the hippocampus which is the seed of memory, and makes you more irritable and over-reactive.
And when you compare the 1980s to today, the economic pressures are greater, it’s harder to turn off information, and people are suffering from something from FOMO, which is fear of missing out. You know, god forbid you don’t look into something right away, you know, you might miss out and then you have to take a picture of yourself getting the information and sending it to people. And now 900 million to 2.1 billion dollars is spent on anti-anxiety medications. Isn’t that unbelievable?
Loretta: The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s. I mean, I find all of this extraordinary. We’ve also lost our extended family and sense of community. I mean, I spent hours with my grandparents. My grandmother didn’t worry about going to the gym and toning her arms because her arms were weapons, she’d hit you with the part that was dangling if you were bad. And you know –
Karen: This FOMO that you talk about, is that the fear of missing the text or the email or the post on social media?
Loretta: Yes, fear of missing anything. We have this need to know now, to know about everything. And when you hear that little ding or ping when you get a text, it actually increases the dopamine response in your brain which is the center for pleasure. So you almost become addicted to that sound and you don’t want to miss anything. So it’s really tough to get away from all of these bells and whistles and information. And a lot of times you want to tell other people about it, oh I got this text, I found this out, and it’s almost become a way of entertaining ourselves. And we don’t have a lot of face to face encounters the way I did when I was growing up.
You know, when I had kids, I lived in Levittown, New York and women would come over and we’d have a coffee [inaudible 00: 07: 32]. I don’t know how many people do that anymore. They probably… you know, maybe a few people at home, they watch “The View” and have coffee by themselves.
Karen: You know, it sounds like you’re saying people are more stressed and more isolated than they were earlier.
Loretta: Oh my god yeah. The latest research I read is that we have more feelings of loneliness now than ever before. And as a result, more people are on antidepressants. And see, we weren’t designed to handle all this information, neuroscientists have been studying this for years. We think we can multitask, but that’s not the role of the brain. And most of what we hear today, a lot of it is about fear, isn’t it? You’re always afraid. Afraid of what you’re eating, you might not be parenting correctly, your relationship might not be good, there’s a terrorist somewhere in the mall. I mean, it’s hard to feel safe. So it’s not as if a lot of the information is good, makes you feel happy.
Karen: Sure. What are some of the mind traps that are inherent in this mentality you’ve been talking about, the human doing mentality?
Loretta: Well, what I call mind traps are really analogous to rational thinking or [inaudible 00: 08: 54] thinking. And some of us are the one that need to be right, you know, a lot of people are just so intent on being right. God forbid they’re not right. They can’t be happy, and they’ll burden you and go into all kinds of arguments so that they feel good. Now of course I think this is a [inaudible 00: 09: 15] model, would you rather be happy or would you rather be right? And then there’s all or nothing thinking. I have to do everything perfectly because anything less than that is a failure. And I find this distortion to be most prevalent in women, and it can lead to depression and anxiety. I mean, I suffered from this, all or nothing, everything had to be perfect. If you walked into my house, everything looked just right.
I mean, I can remember being so ridiculous that I cleaned the oven dials with a Q-Tip. And you know, that goes back to our mother who always used to tell me “You have to do all of this because you never know.” And I finally figured out, now I know, no one that short is coming to my house. And there’s this self-labeling, you know, I feel like a failure, I’m flawed, if people only knew who I really am, they wouldn’t like me. And I think there was a book out years ago called “The Imposter Syndrome” where people can’t feel comfortable with themselves because they feel they’re imposters.
Then there’s catastrophizing and awfulizing, something bad is going to happen, it’s just going to be awful, horrible, and terrible. And a lot of people suffer from that. And then they’ll call someone else and tell them how awful they’re feeling so they can create a group. Excessive need for approval, I can only be happy if people like me. If someone is upset, it’s probably my fault. And then disqualifying the present, you know, I can’t be here in the present moment and relax. I have to get things done. Then maybe I’ll relax later. But when is later? When is someday? Someday is not a day of the week. And you hear people say they’re going to be… you know, they’ll have fun Friday, they’ll relax, then they bring home the work and they just keep going and going and going like the Energizer rabbit. I’m sure you’ve come across people like that.
Karen: Sure. So let’s just sum up mind traps for folks who have just joined us. You identified irrational thinking, all or nothing thinking, negative self-labeling, catastrophizing –
Loretta: And awfulizing.
Karen: Awfulizing, like that word.
Loretta: It’s all irrational thinking, all of these thoughts pass us. And there’s really a few more but then it gets redundant. You know, the need to be right, excessive need for approval, and disqualifying the present moment.
Karen: Right. And why is it so difficult to change our thoughts and behaviors?
Loretta: Well, we become habituated to our thinking patterns. They become what they call, in cognitive behavioral therapy, automatic responses. So how long, you know, have you tried not to sound like your mother at times? I know I have. I often say “Oh my god, that’s my mother coming out of my mouth.” When I was bringing up my kids, I’d say “you never listen to me, you know.” And she used to say that too but of course all you’re doing is confirming the very thing that they’re doing, you never to me, that’s what you’re doing, they’re not listening. And we get a lot of these messages from childhood. You know, they start very early on and I call them the committee. We all have a committee we travel with. And it comes in different ways.
You know, some people’s humor has been decreased by messages like ‘Wipe that stupid grin off your face, you think that’s funny? You see, you’ll have children just like yourself.’ Or an excessive need to straighten up or keep things because, you know, you don’t feel that you should use them now. My mother used to tell me that I had to make the bed every day because you never know. And so I became possessed at making the bed because I didn’t know, and what is it that I didn’t know? Really, it was a fear message that people could show up at the house and report me because I didn’t make the bed. Now I call them the bed checkers. They report you if your bed is not made.
And then there’s people who have to save everything. It made sense when you were going through the Depression, but you know, you don’t need good towels just in case somebody shows up, not your family, or telling people “don’t go in that room, I just cleaned it.” It’s a room, it should be used. So we get these messages from the past. And then we have societal messages that can become ingrained. You know, how we’re supposed to look, who we should become. And change takes time, and it takes self-reflection and practice and commitment and compassion towards our human frailties. So a lot of people find it difficult to change their thought patterns because they’re not becoming the witness to that behavior. They’re so steeped in it, they can’t see it from a distance.
Karen: Do you find that women are more vulnerable when it comes to stress than men?
Loretta: Absolutely. We are so vulnerable because our self worth is often predicated on being nurturers, of taking care of people, fixing things that don’t seem to work around this like family situation, it’s the caretakers a lot of times for our parents. And you’re in that family generation, I did it, I took care of my mother for a long time. And how we look, how others are behaving around us seems to influence us more than men. But the good news is that women have a great model for de-stressing. When we get together and laugh together, which women are good at, they laugh at themselves for the most part, we release oxytocin, which is a hormone that’s found in mother’s milk which helps reduce stress.
Karen: What else do women do that helps to reduce stress?
Loretta: Well, I think that… I don’t think shopping is necessarily a de-stressor because you could end up with a credit card that you don’t need all that money on, you know. But I think the fact that we are caretakers to a degree, if it doesn’t cross the line, is a great thing for us. We love to take care of our families, we love to share, and we like to talk about our stuff with each other. You know, as long as it doesn’t get obsessively negative, we really are good at sharing what’s going on in our lives and asking for help, for the most part. That’s why we have these great close girlfriend relationships. Tend and Befriend was a study, I believe it was by Susan Taylor, who said that’s how women really get through stressful periods, with their good close friends.
Karen: Great. Well I want to take a moment to remind our listeners that we’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation @Pennwomen, @Texaswomen, @Masswomen, and in California at #LeadOnCA. And another reminder, today’s class will be available as a podcast on your conference website. If you registered through Eventbrite, you will receive an email telling you when the podcast is available. So let’s get back to stress reduction through humor.
Karen: What are some techniques and tools that we can adopt to become less stressed?
Loretta: Well, I think number one, learn how to use paradoxical intention which is what Frankl writes about. You know, a lot of times we –
Karen: Let’s redefine that.
Loretta: Well paradoxical intention is the use of exaggeration. It’s really what comedians do. They take situations and they blow them out of proportion. And what people don’t realize is that we often do that and we’re not being funny, we’re actually disturbing ourselves. So that if you were in a car driving and traffic gets on your nerves, you’ll exaggerate the situation to that point of catastrophizing it, like oh my god isn’t this traffic awful, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m never going to get there. But then if you do it tongue in cheek, if you start to witness in a way to your behavior and you see the comedic possibilities, in other words, say it out loud, oh no, I’m never going to get out of this situation. I’ll be found in the car dead tomorrow with my hands gripping the wheel. They’ll have to come with the jaws… what is that… I think jaws of life. They’ll have to come with the jaws of life and pry me out of the car, my family will never find me. So I mean if you keep going like that, it becomes ridiculous. That’s paradoxical intention.
And if we do that more often than not, we’d be laughing at ourselves because that’s the best thing that one can do is to laugh at oneself. As I always tell people, we’re really the comic absurdity. Human beings are often quite funny, but they just don’t get it.
Karen: You know, I was struck by the fact that you have consulted with NASA and I’m wondering… I don’t think of NASA as a place of hilarity, but maybe you do.
Loretta: Well none of the spaces that I’ve been to are places of hilarity. They’re places where morale might have dropped or change is occurring or, you know, there are situations where there’s restructuring or whatever, and I go in and just sort of make people look at their perceptions of the situation and try to adjust it, like you would a rudder on a sailboat. You know, you don’t have to go in this direction, let’s look at multiple directions, that’s what the lens of humor allows us to do. We see a different focus. So it’s not about getting people to laugh hysterically, it’s about really becoming more lighthearted about the situation and putting things into perspective, because when we lose our perspective, we lose our way, don’t we?
Karen: Sure. And it seems another technique that you talk about is to focus on what your strengths are and how they’ve served you in the past during difficult situations.
Loretta: Well that’s a very big model of positive psychology, you know. We do a strengths assessment. In Martin Seligman’s book, he has at least 200 questions that ask you about your strength. And let’s face it, how have we survived our lives? We’ve survived them through using the strengths that are innate in our character. I mean, whether it’s perseverance, humility, humor, compassion, kindness, you know there’s so many, many different strengths and all you have to do is sit down with someone who has been through something difficult and say well how did you do this? And if you can write down these strengths and build off them, the next time a situation occurs where you think, oh I don’t know how I’m ever going to go through this, maybe you’ll refer back to your list and you say wow, I have made it thus far and I can keep on going.
Karen: Okay. So if we’re just doing the techniques and tools, one would be explore the use of paradoxical intention, learning to laugh at oneself. One would be to look at your strengths and how they served you in the past or in difficult situations. And another one you talked about is discovering the power of choice, acknowledge, accept, adapt, and act.
Loretta: Exactly. Well, when we look at those four concepts, it gives us a better perspective on problem solving. A lot of people will say “Oh I’m so stressed, can you help me?” And I’ll say “Well what are you stressed about?” And they’ll say everything. Well, it’s not everything. Let’s zero in on something. What is the something, what is the highest priority? So acknowledge what is the problem. Then decide if you can accept it. Do you have to change it? Maybe it’s [inaudible 00: 22: 30] to accept what you can’t change. And then [inaudible 00: 22: 36] adjust yourself a little bit, change your attitude a degree or two. And finally, action, can you take some action if none of the above works. The best to is to act on something, make a plan, then be accountable to it and think of what the end result would be if you acted, because a lot of talk about stuff for years. I mean, I was in a relationship with a husband for seven years that didn’t work. And all I did was, this isn’t working, well you know, you need a change.
Karen: [Inaudible 00: 23: 13] relationship didn’t work.
Loretta: No. It was also compromising me and my health. So I made all kinds of excuses not to get out of it, but I finally had to confront it and say alright, where’s the fear coming from and let’s make a decision.
Karen: Well, you also talk about using what you call healthy distractions as a way to diffuse your stress.
Karen: What are some of those healthy distractions?
Loretta: And that too is part and parcel of how positive psychology views their psychology model. And one of them of course is exercise, which is really considered to be almost a fountain of youth. It covers all the bases. It helps you mentally, physically, and spiritually. So if you can go out into nature, if possible, and exercise, it interrupts the stress cycle and actually improves memory and reduces depression and anxiety. But you can do some funny little movements in the moment and what I tell people to do is the twirl. You know, you see little kids twirling because they want to show off something, you know, look at me, look at me, watch me twirl. Well, if you use the incongruity model of humor which is twirl and say what’s bothering you, you’ll interrupt a stress cycle.
So may go up to somebody you know or feel comfortable with and say “Oh my gosh, I just can’t take another minute of this day. This day, it’s driving me crazy.” And then you twirl at the same time and it sort of cancels it out because you start to laugh. Or you can walk backwards for a minute or two and tell somebody, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. Or maybe you just sway back and forth. You know, I tell people just if you’re in line, if you’re getting upset, just start swaying, just rock a little bit, back and forth, that’s what we do with babies in a cradle. And if you try it, you’ll see your energy starting to calm down. And I love animals and when I watch elephants, they’re always swaying. So they must know something we don’t. Elephant technique.
Karen: Another technique you mentioned is brief meditation.
Loretta: Well a lot of people are reticent to really quiet the mind and that’s one of the problems today is that the mind is so [inaudible 00: 26: 00] with thoughts and you have 60 thousand a day. And on top of it, you know, you’re trying to process all this information and emails and texts. And so it creates chaos and the brain needs space. So how do you create space? So you might not want to sit and do the lotus position and say ohm, but there are multiple ways. One of them is walking, you can walk and meditate. This particular meditation is one that I’ve sort of shrunk down to its smallest possible denominator. It comes from part math, which was developed by Dr. [inaudible 00: 26: 40] in Stockton, California. And it is certainly more lengthy.
But what I tell people to do is just take a nice deep breath and try to relax, maybe take several breaths, and just put your hand on your heart, and imagine someone that you have unconditional love for, and who they in turn have it for you. And it doesn’t have to be a person, it could actually be an animal. I had a cat that I absolutely adored when I was… after I was divorced. He was like a soul mate. And if you just sit with that or stand, it could be anywhere, because you could do this in two minutes after you get used to it, you will notice your whole body relaxing. Because love is really sort of part of the wisdom channel in the brain and it really makes a big difference when we focus on love rather than stress.
Karen: So Loretta, we’ve got just a couple of minutes left. I’m wondering what other techniques maybe you could describe, two others that you think are really crucial healthy distractions to diffuse stress.
Loretta: Well, I think for fun, you know just for fun, write a song about your stress. When I do groups, I often get people to sit down and write a blues song or think about an opera, you know opera is pretty funny, you can sing ‘I’m so stressed’ and then you think [inaudible 00: 28: 16] no you’re not. And you know, you can sing it to the people around you, maybe you do a group together and make a song if you’re in an office. I also believe in appreciation as one of the greatest sources of de-stressing. Write down what you appreciate, you know, an office might have a bulletin board with things that people appreciate. You could write in a weekly basis or a monthly basis. Because every time you think of what you have, you start to diminish what you think you don’t have.
And I think that’s one of the most important things we can do, is to appreciate, have gratitude, you know, you could even write a letter of gratitude to someone that helped you in your life and read it to them in person if possible. All these things take your mind off of the craziness that we’re now living in. And get some costumes. Get some costumes that reflect some of your personality. I have an Attila the Hun hat for my control freak side. Get yourself a cape, if you’re just the idyll of perfection. And if you like to be really helpful, get yourself a little wand and a tiara and go around telling everybody, you know, it’s a good thing I came in because I was sick but I’m still here to help everyone.
It’s sort of like it’s a common factor in your own life, you know, and you make it fun. Because a lot of us are seeking fun, but you have to become the fun you’re seeking and then you’re never waiting to enjoy yourself.
Karen: Well these are wise words to live by. It’s all we have time for today. But you can connect with Loretta on Twitter @LorettaLaRoche, you will hear a podcast of this teleclass, you’ll automatically receive an email notification when the podcast is ready online. Loretta, I want to thank you for joining today’s class and thank you to our audience for listening.
Loretta: Well thank you very much for having me.