Take the time for “Vitamin L.” In other words, remember to laugh, advised Eva Moon to a packed room during her presentation at the 11th annual Joining FORCEs Against Hereditary Cancer Conference held Oct. 19-20 in San Diego.
Moon knows firsthand what it feels like to not want to joke around. In fact, she spent a week crying after she learned she was BRCA1-positive in 2011. The news came as her husband’s job was in limbo and her mother was very ill with terminal cancer. She elected to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.
But it was a friend who used a limerick that eventually got her to smile again, for which the pair exchanged limericks for some time. “I’ve just had a genetic test. And I’m feeling a little depressed. It’s not just because I’ll have menopause. But I wasn’t quite done with my breasts,” recited Moon of her first limerick.
She eventually shared her witty words with a message board started by Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by hereditary breast, ovarian or related cancers. Her limericks were well received by this group — more than 300 limericks were shared across this platform from all people covering endless topics.
“While my problems were still there, I felt lighter, like maybe for the first time I might be able to cope with it,” said Moon, who is also a writer, musician and performing artist of the one-woman musical comedy “The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes.”
She explained that humor and laughter can have many positive effects on an individual’s life: it burns fat and tones muscles; improves memory, sleep and circulation; reduces inflammation and boosts the immune system. Laughter is also free without bad side effects and it can be addictive, Moon joked. “Studies show that people who can tap into their sense of humor when they are feeling stressed out are much more resilient than those who can’t,” she said.
The brain is wired to worry, but humor can be the pressure release valve, Moon explained. She offered up nine habits for keeping a sense of humor.
Know what makes you laugh. “Everyone has their own personal sense of humor,” said Moon. She told the audience to look for patterns and take notice — this can change brain chemistry, she noted.
Find people who make you happy. A person can meet up with friends who are positive, have a girl’s night, go for a walk with someone or join a group that has people who share similar interests. “Social connection is the number one predictor of longevity,” said Moon.
However, sometimes family or other social interactions can become stressful. This is where Moon offered ways to conveniently get out of them. Start talking about your biggest cooking disaster or worst date ever, she said.
Is the person a warm blanket or wet blanket? It may be challenging to avoid the “wet blanket” people, such as a coworker or family member, but Moon suggested minimizing interactions with them. She suggested that a trick to use when someone goes off on a “I can one-up your bad story” is to ask one question: Excuse me, but does this story have a happy ending? If not, Moon advised saying “thanks, but I’d rather pass right now.”
Notice the little things. Be aware and open to the funny things that happen all day. Look for them and it may help change a person’s mood. Remember to play because this can help someone get out of their own head, she explained. “The next time you’re in the grocery store, turn all of the pineapple upside-down cake boxes upside down. Be a rebel,” Moon joked as the crowd erupted in laughter.
Strengthen your funny bone. Like a seatbelt braces a person for impact, use humor to brace for the stress that may arrive.
Fake it ‘till you make it. “You don’t have to be in the mood to start,” said Moon. “Sometimes it’s an act of faith. Just start and trust that your sense of humor will catch up later.”
Change your point of view. She shared a technique called reframing. This is when a person steps back from a personal situation and looks at it from an outside point of view.
Face your triggers. Moon explained that this can be difficult and put someone out of their comfort level, but it is crucial. “I remember thinking if I got one more comment about how lucky I was to get a free boob job, I was going to lose it,” said Moon. Plan and practice in advance in order to deal with triggers.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. It is important to accept and experience grief as a way to heal, she said. But there is no harm in laughter, too. “Go ahead and cry rivers and act like a clown and scream at the unfairness of the universe and laugh like a maniac,” said Moon. “But do it with knowledge that all of it is part of the healing.”