Why You Need to Laugh During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Finding the humor is especially critical amid so much stress
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Let that inner child come out and allow yourself to smile about life’s absurdities.Dr. John Bouras, staff psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic
at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston
Like millions of Americans in recent months, Orlando, Florida psychologist Benson Munyan has been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, and it didn't take much physical isolation to make him realize he missed laughter.
Munyan started sending colleagues messages on Skype just to check in with them and attempt to recreate some of their office banter, whether it be jokes shared at the proverbial water cooler or just some gentle ribbing of each other.
He also tried to reimagine playing poker with his regular group of friends, only through a video meeting platform instead of in person. The card play didn’t translate so well into the digital medium, but he found he more enjoyed joking and laughter with his friends than the poker.
“With the CDC guidelines of wearing masks and isolation, a lot of the traditional opportunities and activities that we do to feel good have, for a lot of people, declined,” Munyan said. “They’re not going out and engaging in a lot of activities, and many folks are spending less time with people with whom they might share jokes or positive, refreshing conversation.”
Physical & Mental Benefits
Studies have repeatedly shown that laughter provides us so many physical and mental benefits that Munyan said it’s important during this pandemic for people to take the initiative to laugh. There are also many jokes apps that can help you, such as Book of Jokes.
Physically, laughter reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins, what Munyan calls the “feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain.” Mentally and psychologically, laughing with others in the midst of such a stressful situation gives us a sense of shared experience that makes it easier to cope.
“It’s absolutely worth that investment and it’s not necessarily intuitive because this is something that for many folks has been very organic in their day-to-day life,” Munyan said. “Making the actual time and effort to approximate that as much as possible is super important.”
Tricking Our Bodies
Indeed, we can even create physiological benefits by faking laughter, said Dr. John Bouras, staff psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“We have so-called mirror neurons that connect facial actions with emotional states,” Bouras explains. “You know that it is hard to resist cracking a smile when you see a baby smiling. The same neurons can be tricked when we initiate a fake smile. Researchers asked people to fake a smile while images of their brain were recorded. Not only did participants report having more positive feelings, but emotional centers in the brain were lit up as well.”
Of course, Bouras notes it’s much easier to laugh when things are going well.
“It’s more difficult to laugh when one has lost their job and their income,” Bouras said. “They are now forced to focus on how to pay the bills, the rent, or the mortgage. If we, or our loved ones, have any underlying medical conditions, it exponentially increases our risk and our fear of getting sick.”
Coping & Catharsis
However, it’s even more important to look for the laughter and humor in life during difficult times because it helps us cope better.
“You can share a joke or meme with friends on social media,” Bouras said. “You can watch funny TV shows and movies, or comedy specials of your favorite comedian. For me, there is something comforting in watching reruns of familiar 'Seinfeld' episodes. Challenge yourself to keep a smile on while you’re washing your hands while humming the happy birthday song twice.”
Bruce L. Thiessen, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Diego and a singer/songwriter, said laughter, like music, offers a great form of catharsis during the pandemic.
“Laughter allows us to get out that which is bottled up inside,” Thiessen said. “When distress is internal, it can tear us apart. But when we find a way to get it out in the open, it loses some of the grip it had on us. It loses its power, and, with laughter, we take hold of that power. It goes back to us.”
Thiessen said chronic stress and the biochemical reaction it triggers can have deleterious effects on our mental health functioning, leading to high levels of anxiety and feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair.
Smile at Life's Absurdities
As difficult as it can be during the pandemic, Bouras said it’s critical to remember that we all have a sense of humor.
“No matter how serious we are as adults, we all have our inner child who is spontaneous and ready to laugh,” Bouras said. “Let that inner child come out and allow yourself to smile about life’s absurdities. If I were to make a commercial, I would say that laughter is readily available, right under your nose, and more importantly, you don’t have to pay for it.”
Felicia Broccolo, a certified life coach at The Life Coach School, said most of us can't get together with friends and laugh all night long right now.
"I hear from a lot of my clients that they feel lonely, and the lonely feeling, in addition to everything else they may be feeling, is causing them to escape reality with things like food, alcohol, and procrastination."
Broccolo said she reminds them that laughter doesn't require physical proximity.
"Find those people in your life who you can turn to for a good laugh," Broccolo said, "and remind them how grateful you are for them. Laughter will help you more than you know right now."
I have worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for 25 years, and now cover local government and politics at The South Bend (IN) Tribune. I was honored in 2019 to win the Hoosier State Press Association's Ray Moscowitz Award,which recognizes those who foster advancement of the First Amendment, for my reporting on mismanagement at the city's mass transit agency.
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