How to Use Humor to Cope With Stress

Man Laughing With Father During Family BBQ
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Although there's no way to eliminate life's challenges completely, using humor to cope with stress can be a healthy, effective habit. It's not difficult, given the absurdities that pepper the average day. It just requires a bit of practice in shifting your perspective.

How Humor Helps

A sense of humor can build resilience to stress and improve your overall physical and emotional health. It can also help you:

Laughter therapy actually has been shown to reduce the physiological markers of stress and can be an effective adjunct to pharmacological treatment. In general, recent research suggests that laughter can enhance overall quality of life.

Develop Your Sense of Humor

You can cultivate your sense of humor in a few easy ways—and the more often you practice them, the more automatic they'll become.

Start With a Smile

Even just faking a smile can increase happiness—and not just the appearance of it. This is because the act of smiling, whether real or fake, causes your body to release feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Plus, a fake smile tends to lead to a genuine one, helping laughter come more easily and, in turn, quelling stress more readily.

Take a Step Back

When you’re in the middle of a difficult situation, it can seem overwhelming. Taking a step back, however, and viewing your situation as an objective observer can help you find the absurdity in it. This is called reframing—and it works.

Try having a "most annoying boss" contest with your friends, or counting how many times the same frustrating event happens in a day. ("I was cut off in traffic seven times today—I’m almost up to 10.") This works well for predictable or repetitive annoying situations that you can’t control. In this way, you can come to view them in all their ridiculousness instead of letting them unnerve you.

Value the Extremes

If your situation seems ridiculously frustrating, recognize the potential humor in just how ridiculously frustrating and annoying it is. In your imagination, take the situation to an extreme that becomes even more ridiculous until you find yourself amused.

For example, while waiting in a long line, imagine that hours pass, then days, then years. Visualize loved ones visiting an elderly you or attending your child's birthday party right there as you're standing in line years later. Imagining this absurdity can help you find the humor in your circumstances.

Recruit Funny Friends

Social support is a crucial part of stress management. Find a friend or group of friends with whom you can share your frustrations and challenges, and laugh about them in the process. Even when your friends are not there, you can lighten your mood by thinking about the retelling that will come later.

Find Funny Entertainment

Humorous sitcoms, memes, and online videos are popular in part because they often push universally frustrating situations a little further to show their silly sides. Such interpretations of life can help you maintain a lighthearted attitude and find your own style of seeing the world. Look for content that skillfully susses out the humor in annoying, upsetting, or otherwise unpleasant events.

More Quick-Response Stress Strategies

Laughter yoga, which combines laughter and intentional yogic breathing (pranayama), is a great way to release stress and put more giggles into your day. If this type of class is not available to you, look for other types of yoga and relaxation strategies (meditation, tai chi, deep breathing) to minimize stress so you can build your resilience and your sense of humor.

A Word From Verywell

Humor is often helpful in managing stress, but not always. If you experience chronic stress or frequent acute stress, your overall health depends on finding coping strategies that work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you handle a stressful situation at work with humor?

    Finding the absurdity is the key. For example, when you're faced with a seemingly impossible deadline, imagine all the people involved moving as if they're in a movie that's been fast-forwarded

  • Why do people use humor as a coping mechanism?

    Many people use humor to deal with stress simply because it works. And with practice, you can find the humor in almost any situation, defusing its ability to stress you out.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bartzik M, Bentrup A, Hill S, et al. Care for joy: evaluation of a humor intervention and its effects on stress, flow experience, work enjoyment, and meaningfulness of workFront Public Health. 2021;9:667821. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2021.667821

  3. Laughter therapy: A humor-induced hormonal intervention to reduce stress and anxietyCurrent Research in Physiology. 2021;4:135-138. doi:10.1016/j.crphys.2021.04.002

  4. Heidari M, Ghodusi Borujeni M, Rezaei P, Kabirian Abyaneh S, Heidari K. Effect of laughter therapy on depression and quality of life of the elderly living in nursing homesMalays J Med Sci. 2020;27(4):119-129. doi:10.21315/mjms2020.27.4.11

  5. Kraft TL, Pressman SD. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-1378. doi:10.1177/0956797612445312

  6. Baqutayan S. Stress and Social SupportIndian J Psychol Med. 2011;33(1):29-34. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.85392

  7. Tanaka A, Tokuda N, Ichihara K. Psychological and physiological effects of laughter yoga sessions in Japan: A pilot study. Nurs Health Sci. 2018;20(3):304-312. doi:10.1111/nhs.12562

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.