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Here's one way to deal with coronavirus anxiety — try laughing

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Laughing through a pandemic

If financial worries are top of mind, the last thing you may feel like doing is laughing.

Yet perhaps you should. 

It's how Tara Geraghty coped when she found out in 2008 that her 3-year old daughter, Emily Grace, had high-risk, stage 4 neuroblastoma.

Her daughter underwent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and had a bone marrow transplant. At the same time, Geraghty was going through a contentious divorce.

"I felt I had zero control. I couldn't control if she was going to live. I couldn't control if she was going to die," said Geraghty, now 43 and the president and founder of Making Cancer Fun, a resource for families facing childhood cancer. Emily Grace is now 14  and a cancer survivor.

"The only thing I can control is our environment and how we're going to go through this," Geraghty said. "So I just thought, well, we're just going to make this as much fun as possible."

Tara Geraghty and her daughter in 2008
Source: Tara Geraghty

It turns out, she was onto something.

"Laughter reduces the stress response. It lowers your cortisol, it increases things like serotonin and dopamine, which are things that make our brain feel better," said Dr. Julia Kearney, a child psychologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering's pediatric hospital.

It also improves your immune system and stimulates your organs. Psychologically, it gives people a sense of normalcy and a connection between other people.

In fact, Memorial Sloan Kettering includes laughter and fun as part of its work with children, such as bringing in clowns and doing other types of creative activities.

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Dr. Kearney said when people have something outside of their control, whether it be cancer, Covid-19 or a job loss, a good way to cope is to connect with things that are meaningful. One of things you can always connect to is your attitude toward a situation.

"Choosing an activity that creates joy or laughter is one of those things that people feel a sense of control over," she said.

"They feel a sense of pride and sense of meaning because they have found the silver lining or found a way to have a connection even during something terrible."

Geraghty, who lives in Monmouth County, New Jersey, is still turning to fun to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Making Cancer Fun is her side gig. Her full-time, income-producing job is as a sales director for Mary Kay. She's now trying to build her business — which once heavily relied on in-person networking events — in a whole new, virtual world.

Tara Geraghty and her daughter
Source: Tara Geraghty

She's also concerned about her daughter, who is considered high-risk.

"There's a real fear of my goodness, if she got diagnosed, what would happen?" Geraghty said.

"I can choose to go down that path and worry, worry, worry and at the end of the day, it's not going to do anything."

Instead, she tries to focus on the positive.

She keeps a journal, in which she writes down what she is grateful for every day, and reminds herself that nothing ever stays the same. She also repeats a mantra every day and always tries to have fun.

"We're silly with each other and we're light with each other and that changes the dynamic," Geraghty said.

"It helps us remember what's really, really important."

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