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“Laugh out loud!” Leaning on laughter and humour during difficult times

The Bottom Line

  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its interference in our daily lives has many of us grappling with feelings of stress, sadness, and loneliness, along with potential social isolation. 
  • Laughter and humour are strategies that can be used to maintain perspective during difficult times. Laughter interventions, such as laughter yoga, and humour interventions, such as watching a funny movie, are some methods that can help us incorporate laughter and humour into our lives. 
  • Some evidence suggests that, overall, laughter and humour interventions may reduce feelings of sadness and worry in adults. Sleep quality may also be positively impacted by laughter interventions.  
  • More research is needed to further support these findings, but the apparent safety of these strategies and ability to do certain ones at home may still make them worth a try. 
 

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many folks may be experiencing increased worry over contracting or spreading the virus, concern for loved ones, and the sorrow, loneliness or social isolation that can accompany the need to be physically distant from others. In fact, stress, sadness, and fear are “par for the course” in times of crisis (1), so finding ways to inject laughter and humour into our days to help us maintain perspective can seem challenging. But it’s worth a try, after all they do say that “laughter is the best medicine…” 


One recent systematic review shed a little bit of light on some strategies we can use to incorporate laughter and humour. These strategies are aptly titled “laughter and humour interventions” (2). One common example of a laughter intervention is laughter yoga, a combination of yoga breathing and laughing exercises (2;3). Humour interventions involve purposely using a humorous activity—such as watching a funny movie or telling jokes—to help people identify, communicate, and value the at times inconsistent or seemingly ridiculous aspects of life in a fun way (2;4;5).


What makes these strategies even more relevant at the moment is that some can be done at home. This can be as easy as popping on a funny movie, registering for an online laughter yoga program, or following along with online videos. Although there are versions of these strategies that require payment, others can be free.


So, should you invest time and potential resources into “tickling your funny bone?


What the research tells us

The review looked at adults engaging in laughter interventions such as laughter yoga and laughter exercises—either alone or in combination with other activities—or humour interventions such as skills training or watching a funny movie. These folks were generally compared to those maintaining their regular lifestyle.


Overall, some evidence shows that laughter and humour interventions may help to reduce feelings of sadness and worry in adults. However, the size of the impact is only small to moderate. Another check-mark on the side of laughter interventions is that they may give a small boost to sleep quality, although this positive finding is only based on a couple of studies included in the review. The authors of the review also note that, so far, there appears to be no negative side effects from trying out these strategies. With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that more research with a greater number of participants and different populations and study designs is needed to confirm any positive effects.


Where does that leave us? Well, given that these strategies are seemingly safe and have the potential to be accessible, they may be worth a try. So, consider popping on a funny movie and settling in for a night of laughter, or check-outing a guided laughter yoga session online. If you’re really brave, plan a virtual stand-up comedy night with your friends/family and actively participate in some joke telling. These are just a few of the many ways we can inject some humour and laughter into our lives during these difficult times.


Please note that these strategies should never replace treatments prescribed to you by a health care professional. If you are looking for more tips on self-care during this pandemic or are experiencing high-levels of mental distress, please refer to the Government of Canada website for information on strategies you can implement or resources you can access for support.


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References

  1. Government of Canada. Taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 [cited May 2020]. Available from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/mental-health.html
  2. Zhao J, Yin H,  Zhang G, et al. A meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials of laughter and humour interventions on depression, anxiety and sleep quality in adults. J Adv Nurs. 2019; 75:2435-2448. doi: 10.1111/jan.14000. 
  3. Kuru N, Kublay G. The effect of laughter therapy on the quality of life of nursing home residents. J Clin Nurs. 2017; 26(21-22); 3354-3362. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13687.
  4. Gelkopf M, Kreitler S, Sigal M. Laughter in a psychiatric ward. Somatic, emotional, social and clinical influences on schizophrenic patients. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1993; 181(5):283-289. 
  5. Cai C, Yu L, Rong L, et al. Effectiveness of humor intervention for patients with schizophrenia: A randomized controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2014; 59:174-178. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2014.09.010. 
 

DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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