Laughter As A Coping Mechanism

Need A Laugh? Let ‘Someday’ Be Today!

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When I was a child, I would get embarrassed by things really easily. I was prone to stress, too, especially when things felt overwhelming. (This is pretty common for kids, particularly those who are sensitive like I was.) As an adult, I’ve learned to manage these tendencies, but it has taken effort on my part. One idea helped me with the stress of frustration and embarrassment better than just about any other: the idea that “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.”

I still remember when I first heard that phrase, I thought it was ridiculous. I couldn’t imagine why I would laugh about something that had made me so upset. Then one day, a group of friends started doing just that: comparing embarrassing or comically bad experiences and laughing about them. From then on, this secretly became one of my favorite activities. (Hearing people share their stories as comedy, and having a group commiserate and lend support and acceptance may have been what made me realize I wanted to be a ‘professional helper’ in the first place.)

I gradually started thinking about difficult experiences as stories in the making, as potentially humorous anecdotes to save for an occasion when enough time had passed and laughter could replace stress. Then one day, I made an even bigger mental leap: why wait? Why not laugh about these difficult experiences right after they happen? Or while they’re happening?

From then on, I’ve been much more adept at letting my sense of humor get me out of the experience of stress.

I still love hearing stories that ‘someday’ should bring laughter (and therefore regularly find myself perusing the site for just that purpose), and it’s almost second nature for me to find humor in the really challenging situations I encounter in life.

When I forget how to laugh at these things, it really helps to call up a good friend who can listen to my day and help me see the humor in it; this type of shared laughter can even be therapeutic as well as fun.

Laughing at what stresses or embarrasses us is an inborn ability for some, but can be a learned skill for others. You can also enhance your ability to do this, so it becomes a habit that comes much more easily and automatically. If you'd like to expand your ability to laugh at stressful situations, the following tips can help you to further develop this skill.

Take A Step Back

One of the main goals of finding the humor in a stressful situation is to use the humor to create distance between yourself and the stress you are experiencing. Laughing at the humorous aspects of a stressful situation can help you to keep things in perspective and remind yourself that what you experience may not be the worst thing you can possibly face. If you are having trouble finding the humor in your situation, it could help to approach things from a different angle: instead of using humor to find perspective, put things in perspective to allow yourself to more easily see the humor. If you rate your stress on a scale from 1, which represents "not at all stressful" to 10, representing "as stressful as this can be," you can often remind yourself that this isn't the most stress you have faced and that things could be worse.

This puts space between you and the situation, and that space can also add some much-needed levity to the situation, and make it easier for you to see the humor where possible.

Look For The Absurdity

What are the chances? What are the chances that this many things would go wrong, or that they'd go wrong in this exact way? Is there irony in your situation? Is this part of a series of unfortunate events? Is it just what you'd expect, if this were a slapstick comedy?

Imagine This As An Episode Or A Chapter

Some of the best comedies have some of the most outlandish problems as part of the plot, but great comedy can also result from mundane challenges.

This is good news because, whatever you face (short of a tragedy), you can usually find some humor. It helps to watch funny movies and shows or read funny books somewhat regularly. This helps you to keep a light-hearted frame of mind, but it also helps you to have a frame of reference for how people can face stressful situations with a smile and a laugh. Imagine yourself facing the stressful situations you face as if they were a plot line in one of your favorite shows or a chapter in a beloved book. Imagining how the characters you love might respond to this situation, may help you to find a more lighthearted response as well, and can at least help to put a smile on your lips more easily.

Swap Stories With Friends--And Remember Them!

Talking to friends and finding social support when stressed is a tried-and-true coping strategy. If you find a friend who helps you to find the humor in stressful situations, or even just laugh at other things, hold onto them and value this quality! (Be sure to return the favor whenever possible, too; this can be good for both of you.) Not only can it help to be able to call someone, process your situation, and share a laugh, it can help you as you face your stressful situations to know that you have someone out there who will laugh with you later, and it can help you to remember all that you've shared laughs about in the past. Having even one such friend can help you to maintain your sense of humor much more easily.

Shift Your Focus

Sometimes you may have a hard time finding the humor in your situation, but you can laugh at other things--this is great, too! Shift your focus to something else that might make you laugh or smile--funny videos, articles about something you find noteworthy, anything that might lift your mood--and come back to your challenge with a more relaxed attitude. With your stress response diminished, what seemed like a looming catastrophe may feel like a much smaller, less intimidating challenge, something that's much easier to laugh about.

Focus On Stress Management

When you have other coping strategies that work, you can more easily find the humor in stressful situations. Meditation, exercise, cognitive reframing, and other stress management techniques can help you to keep from getting to a point where things feel overwhelming and it's difficult to laugh about it. Here are some great places to start.

Make Humor A Regular Part Of Your Life

Prioritize maintaining a sense of humor when you are not facing stress, and you'll find it much easier to revert to that frame of mind, even when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Make it a priority to laugh when you can and add some fun to each day. You'll find that the stress melts away much more easily.

Sense of Humor Resources

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