"People who use humor during times of stress tend to manage negative situations and emotions better than those who don’t"
Why do we talk about the holidays so much? Because they can be stressful! While there is an abundance of holiday cheer to go around, the holidays can bring added stress as well: kids home for winter break, making your budget stretch to accommodate Christmas gifts, traveling long distances/getting stuck at the airport, surviving dinner with that one family member that just grinds your gears.
How can we cope?
One of the most basic coping skills everyone uses from time to time is HUMOR!
Did you know that people who use humor during times of stress tend to manage negative situations and emotions better than those who don’t use humor? (1,2)
I didn’t either.
This doesn’t mean you have to be Dane Cook or Ellen DeGeneres. You don’t even have to say anything out loud to use humor. Part of what makes humor a good coping skill is that is encourages you to look at a situation from a different perspective.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you are taking the bus downtown to watch a tree lighting ceremony with some friends. You’ve had a bad day and are running late and the bus is crowded. Really crowded.
A person not using humor may think “Just my luck. Now I have to stand on this crowded bus. I hope this is worth all the trouble.”
A person using humor might think “In no other circumstance would it be appropriate for me to stand this close to someone and not know their name or even make eye contact. What would it be like if I stood this close to a stranger at the grocery store?” I imagine thinking about that scene would incite at least a smile as you bounced around, hanging on to the handrail for dear life.
How might these two very different reactions impact the rest of your night? If you could make your life a little more enjoyable, if even for the duration of the bus ride, would you?
One caveat: Not all humor is created equally.
Self-defeating humor and aggressive humor (sarcasm, teasing, anything that damages relationships) while popular among certain types of comedians and television personalities, is associated with increased aggressiveness, depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and poor psychological well-being.
Instead, stick to affiliative (tell amusing stories to strengthen relationships) or situational/perspective-taking humor like my example above. These types of humor are associated with high self-esteem and lower anxiety and depressive symptoms. (2)
On days when it’s hard to use humor, spend time with friends who make you laugh or watch videos that help you see the world in a humorous light. Take a minute to think about your go-to videos or movies that help you lighten the mood?
Samantha Stites, Counseling Intern
1) Martin, R.A, Lefcourt, H.M., 1983; Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods.
2) Erickson, S.J., Feldstein, S.W., (2006) Adolescent Humor and its Relationship to Coping, Defense Strategies, Psychological Distress, and Well-Being