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Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 25, 2020 ·  6 min read

The healing power of finding humor in difficult situations

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly everyone around the world. Our day-to-day lives have been changed in a significant way, and there is currently no way of knowing exactly when -or if- things will return to the way they were before.

In these scary, uncertain times, people are looking for ways to cope. Some are using yoga or meditation, some are starting new at-home exercise regimes, and some learning a new skill or picking up a new hobby.

One trend that has emerged over the last several weeks is the use of humor to deal with the current global situation. 

Late-night hosts and comedians like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Cobert, and Trevor Noah, are streaming online monologues since their talk shows have been shut down, satirical Instagram accounts like “Quentin Quarantino” are popping up everywhere, and you can’t go on Facebook or Twitter without seeing at least a handful of memes poking fun at the situation.

Humour as a Coping Mechanism

While some may regard these types of jokes as inappropriate given the severity of the situation, for many, humor is an effective coping mechanism to deal with the stress and anxiety they are feeling during such uncertain times.

According to mental health professionals, humor is an effective way to soothe nerves and decrease stress hormones. Psychologist Sean Trumen of St. Paul, Minnesota, explains that comedy can act as a mental armor, which can help people get through difficult situations.

“It’s a really powerful way to manage the unmanageable. Just to make fun of it and to gain control by laughing at it. That’s a really powerful psychological move we can make,” he said [1].

Jokes and witty conversations have a way of making you feel closer to the people around you, which is particularly important while we aren’t able to actually be with our friends and families and need a way to feel closer to them. 

Jokes encourage you to look at a situation in multiple ways, which helps you to reappraise it and see a hidden benefit, or realize that it is not as bad as it first appeared [2].

Two studies from the Stanford psychophysiology laboratory showed that when subjects were confronted with stressful imagery, humor was a more effective coping strategy than solemnity, and positive or optimistic humor was more effective than cynicism.

“If you are able to teach people to be more playful, to look at the absurdities of life as humorous, you see some increase in wellbeing,” said study co-author Andrea Samson [3].

The study found that positive humor works by forcing a change of perspective. Negative humor has a lesser effect because while it distances the subject from the situation, it does so without creating a new mental scenario, therefore not facilitating reappraisal [3].

Researchers have also found that the use of humorous reappraisal can lead to greater levels of creativity and cognitive flexibility [3].

How to Use Humor to Deal With Stress

There are many ways in which you can utilize humor to help you get through these difficult times. If you’re not sure how to start, experts say a good first step is just to smile. Even a fake smile, simply making the motion with your mouth, causes your body to release endorphins and makes you feel happier. Eventually, that fake smile will lead to a real one [4].

Next, you may find it beneficial to take a step back and try to reframe the situation. This is where jokes can come in handy. We often hear people say “one day, we’re going to look back on this and laugh”, so why not make that day today? When you reframe using humor, you become much more aware of the absurdities of your situation, and you can’t help but laugh, even just a little [5].

Recruit friends to join you in your quest for humor, and make it into a game. Hold a contest to see who’s gone the most days without getting out of their pajamas. Send memes back and forth, or challenge your friends to silly competitions like juggling rolls of toilet paper-sharing jokes with friends can help bring you together, even when you’re in separate homes [6].

With all your extra time, you can watch funny movies, T.V. shows, and stand-up specials, or read funny books. Netflix has created a new extension called Netflix Party, which allows you to watch a movie or show at the same time as your friends, and have a virtual movie night. You can organize a zoom chat after to laugh about what you just watched [6].

Other Ways to Deal With Stress and Anxiety

There are many other ways to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety you are feeling due to the current global situation. 

If you are becoming overwhelmed with the onslaught of COVID-19 media coverage, take a break from it. Don’t read or watch the news, stay off social media, and avoid talking about it with others. Repeatedly hearing about the pandemic can be upsetting, so understand where your limit is and operate within those boundaries.

When external events are causing an increase in stress, it is important to do what you can to reduce stress in ways that you can control. Now is the time to take care of your body. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, incorporate movement into your routine every day, and get plenty of sleep. Decreasing internal stressors will help you to better cope with circumstances beyond your control.

Taking deep breaths, stretching, and meditating are other great ways to reduce stress. Find an online yoga video, or use a meditation app if you need guidance, and take a few minutes of calm every day.

Many people are unable to work during this time or have moved to working from home. Either way, you likely have more time on your hands than you are used to, so now is the perfect opportunity to re-engage in an old hobby, or try learning a new skill. Immersing yourself in an activity can help to take your mind off of the stress you might be feeling. 

Finally, connect with others. Call your friends on the phone, or organize a group Zoom chat to get together virtually. It is during difficult times that we need community the most, and while being physical with your loved ones may not be possible, even just hearing their voices, or seeing them through a screen can help you feel connected [7].

This Too Shall Pass

While we’re in the thick of this, it can feel like there is no way out, but remember that even the direst circumstances will change, and even the most severe situations will come to an end. There may be no way of knowing when this pandemic will end, but we know that it will. 

Do what you need to do to adjust to this new “normal”, and if you are having difficulty coping, be sure you reach out to someone. There are many psychologists who are now offering online sessions, and if you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with it, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517).

Looking to keep things light? Here are a few articles that might make you chuckle:

Mom Gets the Ultimate Text From Her Neighbor: “Your Kid Is Naked in Your Window”

There Are Merit Badges For Adults Because Adulting Is Hard

129 Ways to Get a Husband in the 50s (a hilarious list)


  1. https://nationalpost.com/pmn/entertainment-pmn/humor-is-healing-laughter-soothes-nerves-during-covid-19-trauma
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/ulterior-motives/201706/humor-sometimes-makes-stressful-situations-better
  3. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/august/humor-coping-horror-080111.html
  4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612445312
  5. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-use-a-positive-reframe-for-stress-management-3144885
  6. https://www.verywellmind.com/maintain-a-sense-of-humor-3144888
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/cope-with-stress/index.html