top of page

Humor: A Way to Deal With Stress

Image of young boy getting a haircut with his dad holding up a phone game to keep him calm. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway, humor

When you're stressed, laugh!

Humor is considered one of the best ways to deal with stress. A little humor can break tension and establish good will. However, there is a big difference between humor used as a way to help manage a difficult situation, and humor used as a way to convey negative messages.

It is important to know what kind of humor you are employing, and luckily, there is a way to figure that out.. Researcher Rod Martin developed the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) to help identify the ways in which individuals differ in humor styles and how these differences influence health, well-being, relationships, and other outcomes. He began by identifying four different styles of humor. The first two, affiliative and self-enhancing are considered positive coping mechanisms. The other two, aggressive and self-depreciating, tend to be critical and belittling to self or others. They have the potential to create hurt and conflict.

Let's take a closer look at each of the four types of humor:

1. Affiliative Humor:

The goal of affiliative humor is to bring people together, create positive bonds, bring humor into everyday life, and create happiness and well-being. This form of humor uses everyday occurrences, is not offensive, and tells jokes about things most everyone would find funny. Narrations of funny events, puns and knock-knock jokes are examples of affiliative humor.

Examples of statements that identify affiliative humor on the HSO include:

  • I make other people laugh by telling funny stories about myself.

  • I don’t joke around with my friends.

2. Self-enhancing Humor:

The goal of self-enhancing humor is to cope with life in a healthy way. Finding the humor in the stressful and difficult situations in life helps manage your emotions. It is the ability to make yourself the target of humor in a good-natured, self accepting way, such as making a joke or funny story when something difficult happens to you, while staying pleasant and optimistic. It is being able to keep a balance between taking things too seriously or too lightly while staying grounded and focused.

Examples of statements that identify self-enhancing humor on the HSQ include:

  • If I am feeling upset or unhappy, I usually try to think of something funny about the situation to make myself feel better.

  • Even when I’m by myself, I’m amused by the absurdities of life.

3. Aggressive Humor:

The goal of this type of humor is to put others down and make oneself look good in the process. In its worst form, it uses insults and aggression. This type of humor can be very funny and creative, as long as you are not the target. Even when it is funny, there is an underlying feeling of discomfort. On the surface, it may appear harmless and playful, but underneath the meaning is critical and unkind, if not down right belittling. It is the humor that bullies use to cause psychological harm.

Examples of statements that identify aggressive humor on the HSQ might include:

  • When telling jokes or saying funny things, I am usually not very concerned about how other people are taking it.

  • If you think people are laughing at you, they probably are.

4. Self-Defeating/Self-Depreciating Humor:

The goal of this type of humor is to gain the approval of others or to avoid criticism. It uses potentially detrimental humor toward oneself. Self-disparaging humor is used to get laughs at one’s own expense. Self-defeating humor comes in the form of being the butt of the joke, putting oneself down, being aggressive toward oneself and employing “poor me” statements or attitudes. It can be an attempt to hide negative feelings about oneself. It is sometimes used by those targeted of bullies to avoid attacks—the hope is if they make themselves the butt of a joke others will not put them down.

Examples of statements that identify self-defeating humor on the HSQ might include:

  • I often try to make people like or accept me by saying something funny about my own weakness, blunders or faults.

  • If I am having problems or feeling unhappy, I often cover it up by joking around, so that even my closest friends don’t know how I am really feel.

When used in a positive way, humor can help lighten the mood in high-stress situations. It can offer support to those who are going through hard times support and help them see that they can get through their situations.

Negative results of Anger

However, there can be some negative results of using humor as a coping mechanism. The style of humor you use may cause misunderstandings and hurt. For example, you may think your jokes are funny and harmless, but in actuality, they are a subtle putdown of others and a way to express hidden aggression.

Humor and joking can be a way to make distance by pushing others away rather than bringing them closer. It can serve as a way for you to hide who you are and to mask what is going on inside of you. When you are never serious, you are never vulnerable. You only let others see one dimension of yourself: the playful fun side. Using humor to cope can be a way to avoid dealing with the real issues and the feelings that arise. It leaves you in a state of denial.

Humor, like most things can be helpful and it can be harmful. It is important to have a balance and be aware of the feeling inside of yourself when you use humor. Are you filled with empathy or are you full of anger? In most cases, it may be a little of both. It is important for you to be aware of what feeling is dominating your humor in order to be aware of your emotions.

Struggling with understanding your humor or the humor of someone close to you? I can help you identify your feelings and get clarity about what is happening. Call me at: 919-881-2001

bottom of page