- There’s an underrated, simple solution for relieving ourselves of stress and anxiety: engaging in a little humor.
- Appeal to your funny bone by accessing some quick humor or thinking back on a funny moment.
- Share your favorite humor or a funny moment with a friend—socializing will get you some added health benefits.
- Don’t be afraid to channel your inner child: play a game that brings you joy and make it a point to laugh at silly things throughout the day.
There are a few well-known stress-relievers out there, from meditating to journaling, exercising, and deep-breathing. But there’s an additional technique that is just so brilliant, we fail to recognize it as such or we forget about it altogether. I’m talking about channeling our inner sense of humor and just laughing it off. “In my specialty field—therapeutic humor—the experience of humor and anxiety cannot ‘occupy the same psychological space.’ An individual can engage the funny bone to immediately relieve anxiety,” Steve Sultanoff, clinical psychologist and master cognitive behavioral therapist, explains. Here are his tips for using humor for stress reduction:
1) Access your favorite quick humor.
Any time you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, Sultanoff recommends relieving yourself with some quick humor. For example, you can buy page-a-day calendars that have a different joke for each day of the week, you can look up some silly jokes or quotes online, or maybe even some medical bloopers that’ll get a laugh or two out of you.
2) Reflect on a funny moment.
Another of Sultanoff’s tips for finding refuge in a little humor is to reflect on a funny event that’s happened in your life. “After a few moments your emotional distress will be significantly reduced,” he says. “This can help you in at least three healthy ways. First, when you laugh, you exercise your muscles and reduce stress. Second, when you experience humor, distressing emotions (‘stress,’ as well as depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, and resentment disappear—even if only for a moment), and a third, the experience of humor adds perspective making the stressors of life less potent. It is quick, free, easy, and takes less than 60 seconds!”
3) Share your favorite humor.
Or, you can share your favorite humor with someone else—not only does this provide stress relief, but it enables you to connect with others and can also help out others who might need a little comic relief. “Have a two-minute ‘humor partner’ with whom you share a humorous story joke anecdote. You can do this quickly every day or as needed,” Sultanoff says. You probably have a favorite funny YouTube video or a go-to joke, right? Share with a coworker or a friend. It might become their favorite source of humor, too!
4) Play with a favorite toy.
Another option is to take a breather by channeling your inner child and playing with a favorite toy. (You’re never too old to have a little fun, right?) You can even do this at work—a common source of stress—as long as your boss is okay with it, of course. “At the office, keep wind-up toys in your desk to use for wind-down races,” Sultanoff suggests. “Also, play with nerf balls, Koosh balls, etc. Keep a favorite playful item with you. I keep a clown nose, backwards watch, Elvis driver’s license, and lightning thumbs with me at all times to use with others to relieve my stress as well as theirs,” he says.
5) Look for the humor in your everyday.
And finally, Sultanoff says you should look for the humor that surrounds you every single day: “See the humor around you. Look for funny headlines, street signs, notices, etc. Look for double meanings and ironic presentations.” Make this a rule of thumb, and I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot happier because you’ll be a lot less stressed.
If it isn’t so easy for you to hop on board this whole humor thing, Sultanoff has a few extra temporary stress-relieving tricks up his sleeve for you. “In addition to all of the above, there are 5 fundamental strategies that people with anxiety employ that are temporary and hold little use in the big picture,” he says, but in the moment they can be helpful:
- Avoid: the individual avoids the situation in which he/she generates anxiety.
- Escape: the individual plans to ‘escape’ if the anxiety becomes unbearable (e.g., sitting on the aisle in a theater or near a door at a meeting).
- Distract: the individual learns ‘not to think about it.’
- Medicate: the individual uses anti-anxiety medication or supplements.
- Prepare: This is the strategy of high performers—they anticipate a situation in which they might feel anxious and prepare for it (e.g., giving a presentation or taking an exam).