According to psychologist Selena Snow, PhD, using humor to make light of difficult times—like, uh, life amid the pandemic—can help to reduce your stress levels. That's because laughter is associated with lower levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone. Laughing is also connected to the release of endorphins, aka the naturally occurring feel-good chemicals in your brain, which can help reduce pain and stress. Since stress is connected to longevity-compromising conditions, specifically as it relates to heart and brain health, using humor as a well-being strategy isn’t a far stretch at all. “Laughter can be a way to lighten a heavy moment and can be an excellent coping mechanism for difficulties,” says Dr. Snow.
“Laughter can be a way to lighten a heavy moment and can be an excellent coping mechanism for difficulties.” —psychologist Selena Snow, PhD
Joy strategist Grace Harry adds that the connection between humor and well-being reflects the notion that when people consciously choose their emotional state, they also change their focus. With this in mind, if laughing facilitates happiness, having a sense of humor opens up the ability to intentionally shift from a place of negativity to one of positivity. If someone can dedicate energy to something troubling, says Harry, that same someone can also consciously make light of situations through humor.
But, when you're in the midst of a bad mood or emotionally taxing situation, finding the energy or wherewithal to flex your humor muscles is easier said than done. Read on to learn eight strategies that Harry and Dr. Snow recommend for folks to find humor in the midst of not-so-easy times.
7 tips to use humor for well-being, like when you’re in dark times
1. List 1,000 things you’re grateful for
This may seem over the top, but that’s exactly why it works as a tip for using humor for well-being. Through this technique, you’re reminding yourself of how much beauty there is in your life, and, adds Harry, at some point, you'll stop sweating the small stuff and start laughing at it.
“When you get to, like, a hundred, you have to start laughing at yourself,” she says. “You're laughing at yourself that you've had to go through this ridiculous exercise” to remember your blessings.
2. Wear silly props
“Props are always the way,” says Harry. During the lockdown days of the pandemic, Harry got herself wigs, goofy glasses, and multicolored light bulbs to make herself and her surroundings look funny.
3. Watch something funny
“Activities like watching funny movies or videos can help us to shift our mood,” says Dr. Snow, because they make people laugh. Whether that’s through watching your favorite sitcom, a comedy film, or hilarious TikTok videos, accessing humorous content can help you out of a not-so-great place—whether by making you cackle or by simply distracting you.
4. Hang out with people you know love to laugh
“Laughter is contagious, so seek out others who enjoy laughing and finding humor in situations, and you may find yourself laughing right alongside them,” says Dr. Snow. When you laugh with others about the unideal circumstances life throws your way, the issues may not seem as catastrophic as you had initially thought, Dr. Snow adds.
5. Crack a smile
According to Dr. Snow, smiling offers similar health benefits to its more audible cousin laughter. “If we are pushing ourselves to smile when we don’t really feel like it, we are still stimulating the zygomaticus major muscle that will cause the release of endorphins and boost our mood,” Dr. Snow says. (For reference, the zygomaticus major muscle is a thin facial muscle that spans from the bottom corner of your lip to the apple of your cheeks.)
6. Put together a playlist
When you’re creating a playlist that appeals to your sense of humor, Harry says that you’d be wise to pick something that makes you laugh, makes you feel good, or “reminds you that there are cycles of life.” Perhaps you’ll include stand-up routines from your favorite comedian, or add a song that has a pleasant memory, or consider tuning into The Well+Good Podcast, which falls squarely into the “makes you feel good” category.
7. Make a fort, like when you were a kid
Aside from providing a great chance to engage your inner child (which can help you heal past wounds), making a fort also offers you a shelter from the components of the outside world fueling your stress. Once you’re in there, you can chat with your “fort-mates” or play games with them to bring some joy into the stressful period of your life.
Regardless of which humor-boosting tactic you use, though, Dr. Snow says what's most important is that it happens period: “Being able to laugh at difficulties can help us to regain our perspective and consider alternatives to our original thoughts and plans.”
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