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Humor as a Coping Mechanism: How to Find Joy in Tough Times
Are you amid challenging circumstances, curious about how humor could help as a coping mechanism?
You’re in luck, because you’ve just stumbled upon a troupe of professional clowns (yes, real-life clowns) who are ready to guide you to joy.
Humor isn’t just about belly laughs; it’s a powerful tool to ease stress, lift spirits, and connect with others. Our clowns have witnessed these benefits firsthand for people in crisis.
This post explores the effectiveness of humor as a coping mechanism. You’ll also learn how to make humor a priority in your life.
Hop in the clown car — it’s time to get this show on the road!
We’ll make the following pit stops:
- Humor: How Does the Funniest Coping Mechanism Measure Up?
- Cruising to Well-Being: Humor’s Astonishing Gifts
- Stress and Anxiety Take a Comedic Detour
- Humor Habits to Avoid Potholes In Your Daily Commute
- Using Humor to Cope with Trauma: A CWB Example
Humor: How Does the Funniest Coping Mechanism Measure Up?
Coping mechanisms are as numerous as the number of oversized shoes at a clown convention: there are hundreds of options. But how does humor measure up?
According to Positive Psychology, the literature has identified five coping strategies:
Within each of these strategies, you can tap into mechanisms that are either healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy coping mechanisms may avoid stress, but the results are harmful. Healthy coping mechanisms provide benefits without harm.
Can you find the funny in this table of coping mechanisms?
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Information in the table sourced from Positive Psychology
Did you see it?
Laughter is listed under the Healthy/Emotion-focused strategy.
However, this list of coping mechanisms is not exhaustive. Can you imagine where else laughter might fit in on the chart?
What does humor as a coping mechanism actually look like in practice?
Humor can shift emotions by changing our body chemistry and reframing situations. It can shift meaning by allowing an optimistic view to emerge. Socially, humor can connect us with others and nurture feelings of acceptance.
Cruising to Well-being: Humor’s Astonishing Gifts
Light-hearted, jolly humor and positive, re-framing humor are our favorite coping mechanisms.
Yes, we’re totally biased. But humor’s benefits are mostly attributed to these types of positive humor.
What are humor’s benefits? Buckle up because this is a long list:
- Physical benefits
- Produces beta-endorphins (to replace cortisol), dopamine (to feel pleasure and relax), and oxytocin (to feel warm and fuzzy toward others)
- Fun Fact: Researchers at Oxford have found that our pain threshold actually increases about 10% after laughing for 15 minutes.
- Fills lungs with oxygen-rich air, energizing the body and improving blood flow, vascular function, and flexibility
- Circulates more blood, stimulating and protecting blood vessels and heart muscles
- Relaxes muscles and eases tension
- Stabilizes blood-pressure
- Brings a sense of calm
- Psychological benefits
- Reduces anxiety and increase psychological resilience
- Shifts perspective
- Counteracts depression
- Fun Fact: Carl Jung used jokes to bring patients back from psychotic states.
- Cognitive benefits
- Brain function
- Problem-solving ability
- Breaks down mental barriers and fosters an openness
- Increased creativity
- Emotional benefits
- Replaces despair with hope
- Neutralizes negative emotions
- Gives courage and strength to persevere
- Lightens burdens
- Adds joy and enthusiasm to life
- Helps us find new meaning
- Defuses conflict
- Enhances teamwork and bonding
- Subordinate job satisfaction and commitment
- Enhances personal attractiveness
- Enhances feelings of safety
Humor certainly can’t do it all.
As I shared in a post last year, I leaned on humor through cancer treatment and recovery. But my treatment also required analyzing information and taking a thoughtful approach to solve problems (the realm of Problem-focused coping).
Stress and Anxiety Take a Comedic Detour
Feeling tempted to indulge in a comedy binge to ease stress or alleviate anxiety?
If you’re craving laughter, take it as your body’s way of signaling — in bright red flashing lights — the need for an emotional release, a disruption of stress hormones, or a break in a negative thought cycle.
Hit the Humor Gas Pedal with This Clown Pro Tip
Tip: Give humor a starring role in your life.
Professional clowns prioritize humor by planning for it. Case in point: They spend hours planning performances. To get the maximum amount of laughs at a show, they plan the who (casting), what (rehearsal), where + when (venue selection + dates), and why (learning about their audience).
So, go on and plan that funny movie, comedy show, or Humor Professional Certificate class (no joke). Bonus tip: half the fun is anticipating fun.
With more humor in your life, you’ll get calmer, more relaxed, and even sleep better.
Want to really kick up your laugh life? Incorporate humor into your every day.
Humor Habits to Avoid Potholes In Your Daily Commute
Add a pinch of humor to your daily routine.
What Will You Play Today?
Clowns bloom amidst play, spontaneity, and connection with others.
What tickles your funny bone? Consider engaging in a creative project, declaring a board game night (my family’s go-to lately), or playing an epic match of Capture the Flag.
At work, can you pose a fun activity to get people to think about a recurring challenge in a new way?
Embrace the Unexpected Like a Clown
Clowns approach new challenges with creativity, adaptability, and a fearlessness — to absurdity and to the delight of their audiences.
Welcome the unexpected like a clown. Turn mishaps into moments of laughter and practice saying “yes” to spontaneous activities (like unplanned road trips 😉).
Embracing the unexpected can lead to personal growth and fresh perspectives as you navigate the unexpected twists and turns of life.
Are You Up for the Challenge?
Take CWB’s laughter challenge and learn how to steer into humor as a habit — one that makes life a lot of fun.
Using Humor to Cope with Trauma: A CWB Example
Clowns Without Borders (CWB) uses humor to bring joy to children and communities in crisis. Our work shows the power of humor as a coping mechanism in even the most traumatic situations.
By providing laughter and moments of respite, we help individuals find strength in the face of adversity. We call it resilience through laughter.
Anya, age 8, left her hometown in Ukraine after the war started in early 2022. She resettled in Poland, but life continued to be stressful and scary. Plus, she missed her home, school, and friends.
In November 2022, Clowns Without Borders-USA arrived at Anya’s resettlement center in Brasov and she attended a clown show. Anya played, lept in the air, and laughed. She said,
“I am so happy. I don’t remember the last time I was this happy.”
Humor is a powerful coping mechanism that can transform our perspective and elevate our well-being.
By incorporating humor into your life every day, you can find joy and connection even in the toughest of times.
In the colorful journey of life, may laughter be your constant companion.
For $11 a month, you can bring a new child to a clown show every month of the year.
Clowns Without Borders is a registered 501(c)(3) and our Tax ID is 20-4102508. Check donations may be mailed to PO Box 1353, Bozeman, MT 59771. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law.
“I often question if I am making a difference in the world. And then I get my monthly reminder from CWB about my impact, and it makes me feel a little bit more hopeful.”
– CWB “Joy Maker” monthly donor