Performer, comedian and writer Ruby Wax on how practice can make perfect when it comes to coping with stress.
Ruby studied psychotherapy and neuroscience, graduating from Oxford University in 2013 with a Master’s degree in mindfulness. She is the author of two best-selling books “Sane New World” and “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” which combine neuroscience, mindfulness and comedy.
We caught up with Ruby to talk about her experiences with mindfulness and the pressures of modern day life.
You’ve written two books about mindfulness, can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
Well, one is about mindfulness, the other is about how your brain works. I was interested in how we are the way we are so I thought, I’m going to research this.
I found that mindfulness and cognitive based therapy had the best results. I’d never heard of either of them. They were teaching them at Oxford and I asked the professor there to tell me how it works. He replied that if I wanted to know that I’d have to get into Oxford, so I did.
The reason I did the course and got the Masters is I knew it would make a fantastic show. And that’s what I’m doing now. I took the information about the mind and I spun it into comedy, and those two books came out of it.
How did that influence how you approached humour?
The mind can’t influence humour. You’re either funny or you’re not. It’s like saying “I’m going to be a catwalk model.” You either can or you can’t. You can’t train for it.
What in your opinion are the biggest stressors or pressures that people face on a day to day basis?
I think we can’t point the finger at any one thing. We’re resilient and we’re built to cope with stress, the problem is, we’re not supposed to know what’s going on around the world and we’re not supposed to be hyped up in fear about it.
Of course, we’re salacious and addicted to wanting to know more. But our mind isn’t designed to deal with that kind of bandwidth. We can’t have ads that keep telling us we could be better versions of ourselves. It’s just got way out of hand.
In your own life, what do you do to try and regulate the stresses you come across?
Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be mindfulness, but you have to practice it every day, like an athlete. So I do mindfulness, it doesn’t work for everybody. But if I don’t sit down and actually try and get the red mist down, it all gets too much for me. So that’s how I keep the world steady.
What situations do you find it’s more useful for?
If you want to go on a stage, or do public speaking, or face your boss, if you don’t learn how to get your heartbeat down, you’re just going to start burning out, and I don’t want to burn out. So if I start losing it on stage, I can’t afford for that to happen because people have bought too many tickets.
So on the night, if I feel like I have a problem, I can start to cool myself down through mindfulness. If I can do that, I can pass it to the next person. And if I’m cool, the audience is cool, which then gives me that feedback to stay cool. It’s like we’re on a giant neural network with each other.
If there’s one thing you would recommend people did more, what would that be?
The most important thing is to recognise what you’re bringing into the room. It’s very easy for us to point the finger at something else, but the conflict is inside us. If we don’t resolve that, there will never be peace.