This guest-post was written by Marcus Clarke BSc, MSc from psysci.co.uk, a psychology and science blog that examines the latest research in mental health and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives. Lots of great posts at Marcus’ blog, so be sure to pay psysci a visit once done reading about the positive effects of humor!
Stress. Anxiety. That feeling when your heart clenches, butterflies dance in your belly and your breathing constricts. We’ve all felt these feelings and we’ve probably all at some point struggled to reduce stress and anxiety from our lives by practicing meditation or popping pills. There is another mechanism however, that reduces stress and anxiety: a natural and effective way that taps into the body and mind’s most amazing powers of self-healing. It’s humour. In this blog I explore five ways in which humour reduces stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are internally focused phenomena. How something is going to affect you. How you will deal with something. Whether you made the right choice. Humour is a masterful way of distracting you from yourself. For a time, your attention is diverted to the larger joke at hand or focused on the comedy happening to someone else. Humour can lift your focus away from what is happening to you, essentially distracting you for a time from your stress and anxiety. This distraction, if applied often enough, can aid you by providing your ‘toolbox’ with another coping strategy for those times when stress and anxiety overwhelm you.
Stress and anxiety not only permeate your mind, but they have a physical manifestation within your body. Muscles tense, the jaw clenches and shoulders ache under tension. Humour affects the autonomic nervous system by encouraging laughter which causes the body to slip into deeper breathing. This in turn relaxes the body’s muscles and calms the sympathetic nervous system from the adrenalized ‘fight or flight’ response to the more sedate parasympathetic nervous system driven state of calm. Thus, humour physically relaxes away stress and anxiety.
Humour has a way of making us all view things in a different light. Perhaps humour uses a little self-deprecating angle, or tosses in some biting satire to get a laugh. Maybe it’s simply over-the-top slapstick humour that is blatant and in your face. Regardless of the type of humour, humour has the ability to make us reframe our perspectives and view our problems from a less ‘all-or-nothing’ lens[PP1] . Reframing, re-authoring or changing the perspective on your issues can make stress and anxiety melt away as you realize your issues aren’t insurmountable after-all.
Humour as pharmacology
Humour brings about a chemical reaction that is a powerful antithesis to stress and anxiety. Laughter releases certain ‘feel good’ chemicals within the brain by activating neuropeptides, such as endorphins, which are the equivalent of nature’s anti-depressants. On a contrasting level, laughter has also been linked with a reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol. So by working at a neuro-molecular level, humour can act as a powerful panacea to stress and anxiety.
Getting together and having a laugh really is good medicine. Humour has been found to increase communication, heal rifts and mend disputes. If your stress and anxiety are caused by strife between friends, family or the guy living two doors down, try having a laugh together and see if that goes some way towards mending fences. Once again, some self-deprecation and a laugh at your own expense might soften a thorny issue or make you seem like a much more approachable person.
The next time stress and anxiety have your cornered and you lean over to grab that bottle of Pinot Noir, try flicking on YouTube and having a laugh instead[PP2] . You might be surprised at how much better you feel after having a chuckle… without the hindrance of a morning hangover to boot!
Mils, H., Reiss, N., & Dombeck, M. Distraction and humor in stress reduction. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/distraction-and-humor-in-stress-reduction/
Why laughter is good for the nervous system, relieves pain. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/laughter-good-nervous-system/
Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456?pg=1
Borchard, T. 9 Ways that humor heals. (2017, Apr.14) Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/02/17/9-ways-that-humor-heals/