A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist walk into a… Some jokes may not flow as well as they used to before COVID-19. Even if bars were open, social distancing would prevent these men from entering an establishment together. While our current health situation is no laughing matter, appropriate humor during this critical time can be healing. In fact, laughter may be the best medicine to fight the coronavirus right now.
Research shows that laughter provides physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual benefits, which can increase resilience. As we approach our fourth week of quarantine and social distancing, it is important to recognize how humor unites people by strengthening our relationships as we navigate the challenges around the pandemic. Humor is an effective coping mechanism that helps to deflect feelings, create emotional distancing, and diffuse anger. It also acts as a social lubricant by helping people drop their defenses and express themselves more freely. It enhances cognitive functioning and problem solving skills. Jokes can provide relief and offer a new perspective on an otherwise overwhelming situation. Laughter connects people in creative ways and develops a shared community where joy and hope become possibilities in the face of adversity.
The Old Testament acknowledged the medicinal qualities of humor in Proverbs: “A merry heart doth good like a medicine.” By activating multiple neurobiological systems in our bodies, a substantial laugh increases the production of immune cells and antibodies that fight infection and can lower levels of cortisol and epinephrine, two major stress hormones. The simultaneous release of dopamine, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter, and endorphins, natural pain and stress fighters, further promote an overall sense of well-being. Other physiological benefits of laughter include lowering blood pressure and increasing circulation and the flow of oxygen to the heart, lungs, and muscles. Laughter even burns calories. Your parasympathetic nervous system’s response to humor not only relieves tension in the moment; it can keep your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes even after you stop laughing!
We all deserve a good laugh. Whether you are sick or well, alone or in company, working or laid off, embrace the therapeutic value of humor and take time to bask in it. Laughter is contagious, so share it with others. As you help to flatten the curve by staying inside, amuse yourself by watching a comedy, reading a funny story, or telling jokes—just make sure they’re “inside” jokes.