Laughter is the Best Medicine: Having a Sense of Humor About Work and Fitness

Beth Kinney-pic

Beth Kinney is currently a Hall Director at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She attended the University of Michigan as both an undergraduate and a graduate, getting her Masters in Social Work. Beth spends her free time running, snowshoeing, reading, playing random trivia games, and dreaming of places to travel to next.

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This time of year can be one of the most stressful times for those working in student affairs. Getting ready for students to come back to campus can make one question why they are doing this work. This is why, during this time of year, I find it especially important to invest time in myself and the things I enjoy. I often do this by immersing myself in a good book, a good show, or the highly effective Lolcats on the Internet.

Having a sense of humor is how I have been raised and it is how I have managed to keep a level head when life is anything but level. I think I really recognized its true importance when I started grad school. One of my friends just told me that grad school is more an emotional challenge than anything else. He is so right. I remembered the awesome amount of sacrifice that went into grad school and wondered why we would ever want to put ourselves through that kind of torture. My friends that were not in school told me about the vacations they were going on or the latest news and I was shocked by how far behind I was. What rock was I under? Obviously not the same rock everyone else was under. I needed a mental break. Not a moment too soon I started taking a class called Interpersonal Practice with Groups. This class was on a Friday and if anyone knows what a Friday feels like taking a three-hour grad class, well, you can laugh about it now, but it is often met with a cringe and a slight feeling of hopelessness.

My professor changed what it meant to have a class on Fridays by incorporating humor into our lessons. One of our first lessons was to sing a song in front of the class. We had to stand up and sing the first song we could think of. All of us were paralyzed in fear. What kind of sick joke was this? Regardless, people sang their hearts out with the blues, gospel, and country classics. Then it came down to me. I did the first song I could think of, which happened to be a 4-lined Family Guy song. This instantly broke up all the tension in the room. People’s eyes weren’t glazed over with the fear of being next. My professor smiled at me and said, “Now you have learned the important lesson of working with therapy and groups.” What lesson was this? I bet people were fanaticizing about being in line at the DMV in compared to doing this. I had just done the first thing I could think of in this situation, making people laugh when things get uncomfortable. I found out later, it was about being the person who created a memorable and relatable moment for others in a group. I continued to use this strategy, when appropriate, in this class as well as my work.

This sense of humor followed me into my journey into becoming a runner. I was a sedentary person before taking on the act of running, not an active bone in my body. The thought of wheezing and soaking myself with sweat was in no way appealing. It wasn’t until my best friend asked me to run a 5k with her that I actually felt motivated to commit to running. I had someone to be accountable to. Funny story, my friend not only did not train with me, but still, to this day, has not ran a single race with me. Eleven races later, she still supports me and motivates me, even if she is not running with me. Regardless of her motivation, there are still some days that I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It is kind of like taking a leap and singing the first song that comes to mind in front a group of strangers you don’t know, except you are wearing spandex and look like a cooked lobster.

One time during my training, I was running during a sleet storm, miserable little pellets of ice slapping me in my face as I barely willed my legs to move forward. It was like being on autopilot. I was the only person on the road that day, rightfully so. I imagined being warm at home with some hot tea and started to chug along faster, wishing I was at my goal, inside and away from the elements. I reached downtown and finally saw a person out in the street. He smiled at me and put his hand up, signaling to me that I should give him a high-five (which I did). He then cheered me on and said I was awesome. I was able to power through the rest of my run. Thank you, stranger! When I got home, I laughed at myself. Cold and soaked to the bone, what was I thinking? That guy knew and I constantly remind myself of this. Through injury, blisters, and bonking, I will sometimes find myself smiling through those bitter last miles of a long run, remembering what it means to do something great for my body.

I am currently training for my first marathon and am constantly in question of why a person, aside from a bear chasing after you, would ever go 26.2 miles at one time. To get through it, I practice self-talk, sometimes out loud, while running. You are your own self-help book. I need to remember that I run for my health, I run because it feels good afterwards, I run because I have the privilege of being able to move my legs and coordinate them to step one foot in front of the other, and I run because, without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I am a runner. I have learned so much about myself from pushing myself beyond the normal mental and physical threshold. I have tripped and fallen, killed my phone out in the middle of a downpour, and had a hawk almost take me out while running a trail. I have also worked through shin splints and a recent bout of plantar fasciitis. Think about it, these are some great, and possibly epic, stories to tell your friends later. Through it all, I have to smile, because running for me, is the best gift I have ever given myself.

If you have any funny running stories or ways that you incorporate (or wish to incorporate) humor into your work, I would love to hear them! You can tweet me at @kinneye2 or email me at kinneye@umich.edu.

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