Michael Bork | Keynote Speaker & Workplace Happiness Expert

The (Balloon) Dog Whisperer

Have you ever considered the life of a balloon dog? Or balloon animals as a species? Probably not, But I do.

A lot.

Don't judge me.

I first learned balloon art from a Klutz book in 2000. I figured it would be a useful skill in my new Parks and Recreation career. And it certainly has been fruitful! This skill has provided many hours of entertainment and a not-inconsiderable profit over the years, but I felt that there was more to this enigmatic tube of air-filled latex to be explored.

How do you draw the untapped potential from the unassuming balloon dog, you ask? Good question.

Well, believe it or not, Parks and Recreation can be a somewhat stressful career. There are deadlines, budget demands, public pressures and expectations, long hours, low pay...you get the idea. It is a mostly fun field, but it can be stressful.

My time spent practicing, twisting, popping, and forming these magnificent balloon creatures gave me insight into their species. With thousands of balloons created, I have developed a certain intimacy with these creatures: gaining their trust, learning how to twist them, learning how to feel the will of the balloon as you shape it, and the internal pressures that can tear a balloon apart at any time. The trust and confidence needed to take the potential of a balloon and turn it into reality gave me a few "AHA!" insights:

  • These poor creatures are just air-filled bags of stress.
  • We humans are just water-filled bags of stress. Ergo sum:
  • We are like just like balloon animals! (stay with me...)

I debuted my balloon/stress theorem on the national stage in 2015 at the National Recreation and Park Association Annual (NRPA) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was there that I first presented:

"The Ballon Animal: The Most Stressed Creature in the World!"

This hour-long class explored dimensions of stress, stressors, our physiological and psychological stress response, and how it relates to the poor balloon animal. AND IT WAS A HUGE HIT! The balloon animal was being understood and appreciated. Stress was being managed. It was great!

Then I graduated with my Master's Degree in Organizational Psychology and found Laughter Yoga (separately, but around the same time)...and the whole dynamic changed again!

Now, not only did I have a great visual way to explain stress management using the poor balloon dog, but I had discovered a scientifically-backed way to manage stress in a fun and creative way! In 2017, I debuted a brand-new, 2-hour workshop at NRPA, this time combining two ideas. I presented:

"Laughter & Latex: Beating Stress, Silly!"

This class was met with rave reviews! In fact, this presentation scored a perfect 7 out of 7! Very Good, YAY!

Why was it so popular? Other than my balloon-animal magnetism? Well,

  • Who doesn't love balloon animals? (excepting GLOBOPHOBES, apparently)
  • Everyone wants to manage stress more effectively
  • Purposeful laughter sounds like fun (and it is!)
NOW, HERE IS THE BAD NEWS...

This explanation is MUCH more effective in person. It is interactive, the audience fully participates. We make (and pop!) a bunch of balloons, we learn how to laugh for no reason. It is great! But you are there (wherever there is) and I am here (sitting at my desk in Fairbanks, Alaska). So I will do my absolute best to make this as clear of a message as possible.  BUT KEEP IN MIND...

[CAUTION: SHAMELESS PLUG]
The best way to experience this message is to hire me for your next corporate training, meeting, in-service, staff retreat, or conference. It truly is an experience unlike anything you have ever had, I guarantee it!

Now that THAT is over with, let's talk specifics.

THE POOR, STRESSED BALLOON DOG

Even if you have never made a balloon animal in your entire life, I hope you have at least SEEN someone make a balloon animal. The steps are pretty easy:

  1. Determine what the balloon shape will be (this HAS to be done first)
  2. Inflate the balloon with the PROPER amount of air
  3. Beginning with the knotted end (usually), begin "twisting" bubbles into various configurations, depending on what is being shaped
  4. Hope you do not pop the balloon. If you do, repeat steps 1-3

If done well, the twisting and shaping results can be dramatic! But the stress on the poor animal is incredible! To understand, we have to examine the basic physics of what is happening inside the balloon's guts.

When we inflate the balloon, we must provide the right amount of air, dependent on what we want to create. A poodle requires much less air than a wiener dog, which is much less than a swan.

After we inflate and tie-off, we are committed. If we made a mistake, there is not much that can be done.

As we make our first twist, we violently discombobulate the internal skeleton of the creature by wrenching it around its own newly-created joint. This must be done 3 or 4 times per twist, just to be mean!

CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES THAT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN.

Balloon Beginnings

The horror. The horror.

Okay, I may be a little bit silly on that, but you see the basic maneuver of the "twist." Here are the key points:

  • Care must be taken to plan ahead for the upcoming twists.
  • Every twist that is made in a balloon reduces the available volume, and increases the remaining pressure.
  • If the balloon has been over-inflated for the desired animal, the reduced volume and increased pressure can have catastrophic results.
  • If the balloon is under-inflated, unfortunate growths and mutations may result, rendering euthanasia the only humane option.

Think of the human body, are we so different?

Things that cause us stress are called, coincidentally, STRESSORS. When the number of stressors tips the delicate balance of our ability to deal with said stressors, we experience distress (conversely, "good stress" is called "eustress"). Much of the stress response is covered in my article on Eustress vs. Distress.

Each stressor we take on, either voluntarily or involuntarily, is like a twist in the balloon. Like the balloon, if we have not properly planned for the amount of stress, we can suffer catastrophic results. Often, we call this "freaking out," or "going postal." It is also known as "burnout" or "stress exhaustion."

Whatever you call it, it can be a hot mess.

So that is the big mystery, the big reveal. We are just like balloon animals. If we do not properly plan for stress, we will pop. End of story, right? Well, THANKFULLY we are a bit more complex than a balloon animal. Hooray for us!

This is where the laughter comes into play (pun DEFINITELY intended).

I am not going to spend any more time on the history and benefits of laughter. I have covered the topic pretty comprehensively in other articles, so I invite you to read about laughter basics, conditional vs. unconditional laughter, why you should laugh more, and how laughter & happiness are tied to the bottom line.

It comes down to this. To healthily manage stress, we need to be able to do two things:

  • First, we want to prevent bad stress in the first place. This is where planning for our stressors comes into play. Be more organized, learn to prioritize, re-order your priorities, set goals, etc. Unfortunately, we cannot eliminate all of the stress in our lives. Nor do we want to. Some stress (eustress) is good and healthy; it keeps us competitive, gives us our "fight or flight" instinct. You never know when you might have to run from a bear!
  • Next, we also must manage the stress we cannot prevent; and have an effective tool to defuse or intervene in our stress response. This is where laughter comes to the stage. Through Laughter Yoga, you learn how to laugh without the need for humor or jokes. You learn how to use laughter as a cathartic exercise.
  • HERE IS THE THING! You are not laughing your problems away. This practice does not teach: "laugh your troubles away...ignore them and they don't exist." You are using laughter as a tool to help make your response to stress more healthy. You ARE using laughter as a tool to break out of your mental "negativity cycle." You ARE using laughter to give your body an energy and oxygen bost, which is MUCH healthier than yelling and screaming, right?
To wrap this up, chronic stress is bad. We can all agree on this.

In 2015, the U.S. spent over $300 billion in stress-related health care costs. That is $300 BILLION, with a "B." Just on stress-related health care. Doesn't it make sense to do whatever we can to find effective and innovative ways to handle our life's stresses?

Laughter certainly is not new -- we have been laughing for as long as we have been conscious, sentient beings. It is only recently that science has begun to attempt to prove the adage that "laughter is the best medicine."

I am not a doctor, so I cannot speak to it being the best medicine. What I can state with confidence is that, given the choice to laugh or yell, most of us would choose to laugh. What we lack is the knowledge of how to achieve stress relief (along with everything else that laughing gives us) with laughter. Like anything else, it takes practice. That is where I come in.

Let's work together. Let's discover happiness and success with laughter. Don't be a poorly-planned balloon animal.

You are better than that!

 

 

 

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