Using Humor As a Healthy Coping Mechanism

By LaKeisha Fleming

You share funny videos on TikTok. A friend texts you a silly meme. Someone makes a hilarious comment on Twitter. In the midst of a tense situation or painful circumstances, the laughs those gestures bring can be just the relief you need. 

Humor is often a way to cope with difficulties. Research shows that when people are stressed or anxious, they become calmer and more at ease after enjoying a good joke. Humor can also draw people closer together. Sharing laughter with others is a bonding experience.

Research also shows what many people of color already know: Humor can build resilience. It provides a way for people to process trauma and pain, including the effects of racism. Humor is valuable and a great tension breaker, but it can also be easy to use humor to avoid dealing with difficult feelings. Understanding the healing power of humor and learning how to benefit from the laughter it brings can help you use it in a way that’s helpful, not harmful.   

Why Does Humor Help?

Humor Changes Your Body Chemistry

A chemical reaction happens in your body when you smile and laugh. Endorphins—hormones in your brain and nervous system that affect your mood—are released and activate receptors in your brain. These receptors lessen pain and trigger feelings of pleasure. Feelings of stress and discomfort are reduced, and feelings of joy and happiness increase. 

Humor Connects Us

Humor also can make people feel less alone. You make a connection when you laugh with someone, whether you’re in person or online. The laughter that humor brings is contagious thanks to mirror neurons, which are brain cells that cause you to do what you’ve just seen someone else do—“mirroring” their actions. Just sharing the joke or video that caused you to laugh—and knowing someone else had the same reaction—creates a shared experience.   

Humor Builds Resilience

Finding humor in hard things changes your perspective on them, helping you have a more positive outlook. Being able to take a lighter approach to a problem can also make it feel less overwhelming. Research shows that laughter can be calming when you’re scared. After confronting and dealing with a negative interaction, laughter can provide a release from the tension of the situation and return your nervous system to a calmer state.

When Humor Isn’t Helpful

Humor is a very valuable tool, but it’s less helpful when it keeps you from dealing with emotions.

Experiencing a range of emotions is healthy and necessary. If you find yourself using humor to cover up pain, sadness, anger, fear, or trauma, you are depriving yourself of the chance to process and work through tough emotions. That means they will just find another way to come out. 

So how do you figure out a balance that makes sense while adding helpful humor into your life?

Is Humor Keeping You From Dealing With Tough Emotions?

Ask yourself: 

  • Am I making jokes to avoid dealing with painful feelings?
  • Am I using humor as a weapon or defense mechanism?
  • Does this humor give me the relief and release I need?
  • Is humor helping me deal with this situation?
  • Is this funny situation connecting me with others?

Once you’ve figured out the reason you’re using humor, you can determine if it’s helping or hindering you. If you find that you’re using humor to avoid your feelings and it’s hindering you, try to experiment with letting yourself feel tough feelings without making a joke.

Ways to Incorporate Humor Into Your Life

 Watch funny videos on YouTube.

  • Watch a video of one of your favorite comedians.
  • Share something funny on social media.
  • Turn on your favorite sitcom or comedy film.
  • Do something silly: Do a cartwheel, dance around, or take silly selfies.
  • Read a funny book.
  • Have a funny contest with a friend, such as blowing bubbles, making paper airplanes, or karaoke.

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