By this point in the month of December, you might find that stress is becoming a familiar companion. There are a lot of demands and expectations that can feel like they are piling on to an already heavy load of ordinary, daily responsibilities! How are you managing? Are you buckling a little under the weight, or are you loving the excitement of the challenging demands?

In this week’s ADHD HINT we are going to look at the executive function of STRESS TOLERANCE and at the character strength of HUMOR. They go together quite well, I think.

Here’s how Peg Guare and Richard Dawson define stress tolerance:

the ability to thrive in stressful situations and to cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands.

According to that definition, stress tolerance seems to mean much more than just tolerating stress. The definition describes an ability to THRIVE under stress. Lots of folks with ADHD excel at thriving in stressful situations and coping with uncertainty, change, and performance demands. Think of EMTs, firefighters, emergency room physicians, and others whose jobs put them in situations of danger or emergency. It’s often said that in an emergency, the person with ADHD is the calm one on the scene. The stimulation of the emergency makes an ADHD brain feel more “normal.” It’s a happy alternative to boredom!

We know that one thing that engages an ADHD brain is urgency. We often procrastinate until we feel urgency — putting things off until the deadline looms, and we finally feel our brain engage in the face of the looming crisis. Then we get down to work in that stressful situation! (I wonder if that’s how Santa and the reindeer are feeling about now?)

If you tend to use stress and urgency to get yourself started, it might be good to do a survey of the effect stress is having on your body and mind. Stress is a little like a spice — good in small amounts (excitement, surprise), but toxic in large quantity (anxiety).

Do a scan of yourself to see where excess stress is showing up. Start with your body; do you feel it in your neck or your shoulders? Become better acquainted with your body and how it feels under stress so you can tell whether your stress and tension are serving you well or poorly. Maybe stress is affecting your eating patterns and digestion. Does it show up as anxiety that doesn’t allow you to sleep? How’s your blood pressure?

How about your emotions? Are you short on patience? Are you snapping at people?

If you need a relief valve from stress, one thing to cultivate is the character strength of HUMOR. Guare and Dawson describe humor as:

Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.

It’s hard to be in the presence of humor without laughing. Here are a few things the Mayo Clinic lists as benefits of laughter:

  • stimulates many organs
  • activates and relieves your stress response
  • soothes tension
  • improves your immune system
  • relieves pain
  • increases personal satisfaction
  • improves your mood

Each of us has the character strength of humor, but for some of us it is much more readily available than for others. Wouldn’t humor be worth cultivating, however accessible it is to us now?

Humor and laughter can:

  • decrease aggression
  • promote cooperation and fairness among people
  • defuse social tension
  • improve emotional well being
  • develop inner strength and courage
  • improve heart function
  • increase endorphin levels

Stress and humor make quite an effective pair! Humor helps to lighten stress and put it into perspective. Stress can help us focus and get started on a task that needs to be done if we’ve been having a little too much fun.

Both stress tolerance and humor are gifts we can give each other this holiday season. If we can laugh at ourselves and others while in the middle of a stressful situation, the stress will be relieved and we’ll be strengthening the executive function of stress tolerance.

May you have a holiday filled with humor, laughter and just the right amount of stress!



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