To fight the daily onslaught of stress in your life, I suggest that you use your sense of humor. Nothing relaxes and refreshes the body like a good hearty laugh. It makes you feel good. There are no bad side effects and it’s non-fattening. The ability to take your job seriously and yourself lightly will go a long way in the battle against stress.

From a psychological point of view, work is nothing but organized stress, so unless you’re the chief tester for Lazy-Boy chairs, your job is where you feel life pressing down on you most heavily. This is where you need to lighten up.

Is stress that bad for you? Dr. Robert S. Eliot, a cardiologist who heads the Institute of Stress Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz., estimates that as many as 500,000 Americans die each year from stress-related heart conditions alone.

“Of all people who drop dead, 86 percent – nearly half a million a year – have lesions in their heart muscles that are produced by excess adrenaline due to too much stress,” Eliot said. “People become pressure cookers with no safety valves.”

I believe that when God designed us he included a built-in safety valve for dealing with stress: our sense of humor. For good health, laugh ten times a day and five of those should be at yourself.

Did you ever notice that the trees that are left standing after a hurricane are the ones that bent with the wind? The rigid ones are snapped in two like twigs. Your sense of humor can help you bend with the gale of stress you face every day.

Maybe you’re one of those who doesn’t believe that laughter can be the best medicine. Well, just consider the physiological effects of a good laugh. After a slight rise in heart rate and blood pressure, there’s an immediate recoil. Muscles relax, blood pressure drops below pre-laugh levels, and the brain releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers and the same stress-reducing chemicals that are triggered by exercise). More oxygen is pumped into your blood and thus your brain. All this can help your body cope with difficult situations that typically stress the heart, not to mention the soul.

To lower your stress, start by reducing stress around the workplace. Help others find humor in stressful situations. Don’t be afraid of a witty remark. For example, if Joe down the hall says, “If I don’t get this report done today, I’ll shoot myself”, ask him if you can have his stereo–assuming you both don’t work for the postal service.

Most situations can be lightened with a self-deprecating joke or one about the IRS. You can use humor to break down resistance. One department head whose budget had been shot down three times by her boss decided to use her sense of humor instead of getting angry. She reduced her budget on the copy machine down to the size of a postage stamp

and resubmitted it saying, “That’s about as small as I can get it.” He passed her budget. Not only did she benefit from employing humor but her department and the company benefited as well.

Stress busting with humor works by stepping back from a situation and playing up its absurdities. Remember that dream vacation you planned that turned into an episode of “The Twilight Zone”? Or the project that was going to make you look so good and the harder you worked the worse it got? At the time it probably seemed like the whole world was coming down on you, but two weeks later I bet you were laughing about it with friends. For STRESS BUSTING I say, “Why wait? Laugh while it’s happening.”

When stress strikes, first take three slow, deep breaths extending your stomach not your chest You will instantly feel a change coming over you. If it’s an impossible situation, imagine how the characters from your favorite sitcom would handle this. Call a friend that can make you laugh with the latest joke. Realize that this too shall pass. In the giant scheme of things is this going to make a big difference?

Our island friends in the Caribbean may have the simple solution when they say, “Don’t worry, be happy.” The next time things around you are going crazy, remember: DON’T TIGHTEN UP, LIGHTEN UP.