Humor Helps Us Cope with Stress

Written by: Abigail Saneholtz, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist
Usually when I start writing a blog for our Facebook page I think about topics that clients are coming to sessions struggling with in order to share something meaningful and that will hopefully resonate. Often it is easy to focus on the challenges and stress going on in our lives. In fact, our brains are wired to look for threat and the negative. It’s common to hear people talk about “waiting for the shoe to drop” when things are going well for them. The term used for this is called negative bias. According to psychologist and researcher of social neuroscience, John Cacioppo, (University of Chicago), “the brain reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news”. It takes effort to look for the good, areas of strength and the positive aspects of life when we are conditioned to so often automatically think about the downside to situations.
Therapists very often talk about the need to build coping skills to help deal with the stress in our lives. Practicing relaxation skills, engaging in self-care, spending time with friends/family, exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep are all important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, sometimes with all the stress of the week going on between work, our children’s homework, son’s soccer practice, daughter’s gymnastics, trying to find time to get together with friends, date nights with a spouse and overall being present in our families lives we start living on automatic pilot! Not to mention all the stress going on in the world today that is all over social media and the news!

Sometimes despite trying to use all the skills and suggestions of ways to reduce our stress – We still feel stressed out! So what’s missing? Sad to say, but often it’s our sense of humor! Studies show that laughter sometimes is our best medicine. Developing a sense of humor helps us get through the tough times everyone goes through. It lightens the load you might be carrying and offers a way to find some relief with all the challenges in life.

Here are just a few ways that humor helps us:

Strengthens relationships by increasing bonds and connection between people
Enhances the immune system
Reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and increases helpful ones like endorphins and dopamine
Provides emotional release
Offers a healthy distraction
Reduces muscle tension
Helps us change our view and perception of challenges to be more lighthearted and less intense
Enhances our mood
Helps all of us remember the good rather than focusing on the negative which can help with reducing depression and anxiety

Our bodies are great indictors for what is happening, not only physically, but also emotionally. Mindfully becoming aware and tuning into the different states our bodies go through, as well as learning to differentiate between when we are stressed and when we are experiencing lighter more positive emotions can be a helpful reminder of the need to lighten up our perspective with a little humor. Of course, some situations are not really the right timing and are not appropriate for use of humor, so think that one through before laughing out loud or saying something that others may not really appreciate. That will certainly increase your stress level! The next time you are around a situation where you start to feel stressed at work, home or school try smiling, laughing with others, looking at something funny online or even watching an old episode of The Office. Check out this light hearted article on why we all love watching and references The Office for more about why humor is so essential to getting through the stress and enjoying life just a little bit more!

Can You Be Addicted To Watching “The Office?”, Here’s Why You Actually Can’t Get Enough

Bennett MP, Lengacher C. Humor, and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Ascending Visceral Regulation of Cortical Affective Information Processing. Gary G. Berntson, Martin Sarter, and John T. Cacioppo (2003). European Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 2103-2109.