How To Use Humour To Beat Stress

Words: Paribha VASHIST

Whether in school, college, or 9 to 5 job, we’re all bombarded with last-minute tests, assignments, and deadlines. So, it is a ‘common shock’ that we take a few seconds to fathom, and, in the next moment, insurmountable pressure builds up. Scary thoughts, such as “What if I fail?” or “How will I finish on time?” clog our thinking channels. The questions, to our detriment, generate additional stress and adversely affect our concentration levels.

The Big Picture

One unique approach, however, is dealing effectively with stressful situations. In simple terms, we call it ‘reframing,’ or shifting perspectives, and laughing at the wryness of our circumstances. To practice reframing, picture yourself next to a poor street vendor trying to earn a meagre income just enough for one’s survival. Your ‘stress’ about tests, or deadlines, that are an inextricable part of your ‘privileged status’ will all seem preposterous. You would feel ‘blessed’ to have the ‘opportunity’ to give a test, or meet a job-related deadline. Yes, this sounds ironic, but such analysis would naturally bring a smile to your face and make you feel grateful for your elevated status.

As Rod A Martin explains in his book, The Psychology of Humor, this ability to shift perspectives enables people with a strong sense of humour to distance themselves from the immediate “distressing nature of the situation and reduce the oft-paralysing feelings of anxiety and helplessness.” Take note that the crucial element here is humour. The quirky our thoughts, the louder our guffaws and the lower our worries.

You could try another form of ‘reframing’ by learning from a hypothetical case. Assume that you have an important test tomorrow; now, instead of procrastinating, think about your life as a hunter-gatherer. Living in a beautiful forest, taking in the fresh air, socialising all day… and, then suddenly a tiger attacks you… and, you realise how much better your life is now with all the technological advances. You laugh at the absurdity of your imagination and the current unnerving situation becomes manageable. The smile that it brings to your face releases ‘happy hormones,’ like endorphins, and puts you in a good mood to do your last-minute preparation — exactly the way you’d want to.

A study substantiates that humour and optimism provide “greater potential for cognitive restructuring and a greater potential for redefining, or reappraising stressful situations, more positively, or more humorously.”

Magnify The Intensity

Yet another way to dealing with a stressful situation, just as tongue-in-cheek as it may sound, is to amplifying the intensity of your problems — not in the reality of course but ‘metaphorically.’ Consider this scenario. Your boss gives you a ‘command’ that you need to submit your presentation tomorrow. Now, instead of worrying about the limited time, imagine yourself in a situation that is worse in a parallel universe — what if you had to submit your presentation in just one hour?

This thought makes you empathise with your parallel version, making the one day you have to seem modest. Your morale boosts significantly as you tend to compare yourself with others and feel ‘good’ in a less stressful state. Funnily, in this case, the comparison is with your parallel existence.

Let The Pressure Out

Venting out is beneficial too. With a touch of humour, it just transforms a trying situation into an amusing one. By sharing our inconveniences and frustrations with our close friends and colleagues, we can substantially reduce the stresses we face. This, in turn, ‘ups’ our ability to hear hilarious, relatable tales that pacify us in the present.

You’d also supplement your ‘humour dose’ by watching, or reading, hilarious content. Chandler from the famous sitcom, Friends, who uses humour to shield himself from depressing thoughts, could be your guide.

Besides, you could try ‘laughter yoga,’ which involves prolonged voluntary laughter. The act of laughing without any reason automatically makes you laugh when you think of its inanity. Also, since laughing is a contagious act, it brightens up the day for a passer-by who might just be under stress. So, it certainly is a positive ‘voluntary service.’

Most important. Always remember Peggy Noonan’s words, “Humour is the shock absorber of life; it helps us take the blows.” It is also, without a doubt, the best prescription to beat school, college, and workplace stress.

PARIBHA VASHIST is a second-year Bachelor of Economics student at Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. A voracious reader and a naturally gifted writer, Vashist is zealously passionate about international economics, environmental policy and sustainable development. She wishes to effectively disseminate, in her own simple, yet profound way, scientific knowledge and policy tools to bringing about a positive, healthy change in our increasingly madding world.

2 thoughts on “How To Use Humour To Beat Stress

  1. Subhash says:

    A timely piece with invaluable insights into how to combat stress. Laughter and humour are potent stress-busting weapons… if only we care to deploy them in our busy stereotyped lives. Paribha Vashist has so eloquently articulated this in her article. I loved it both for the content as well as for its narrative elegance.

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