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Posted by Philip on 3 March 2016, 10:55 am in , , , , , , ,

Laughter, anxiety and diversity

I wrote the other day about my own experience of anxiety and my thoughts that we have emerged into an age of anxiety. While I tried to keep it light, it's a dark topic.

It has occurred to me since that one of the most healing behaviours for me, both during my period of acute anxiety and now as I still experience low-level but chronic anxiety is my ability to laugh. Laughing in the face of fear and dis-ease is challenging, but it has an incredibly positive effect.

It can also help to reduce tension when navigating diversity.

Laughter and anxiety

Laughter has been proven to be good for you, to improve health and fight disease ("the best medicine"). Interestingly, according to philosopher John Morreall, the first human laughter may have its origins as a shared g­esture of relief when perceived danger didn't eventuate. If you bring this back to anxiety, it starts to point to why laughter might work well to balance out a fear of possible danger. Celebrating the non-occurrence of peril by laughing has a stabilising influence.

Anxiety is stressful and laughter causes a reduction in particular stress hormones — cortisol and epinephrine — which compromise the immune system and increase artery constriction and blood pressure. Laughing releases killer cells that are known to attack viruses and tumors; as well as Gamma-inferon, T-cells, B-cells and other antibodies, all of which build immunity and fight disease. It also creates pain-reducing endorphins.

Laughing exercises so many muscles that it can even simulate a physical workout, which adds to a list of reasons I don't go to the gym.

So, when in a situation where you are experiencing either acute or chronic anxiety, finding things that make you laugh — whether chatting with friends, watching a sitcom or anything comedic, or even playing with a pet — will assist in balancing the adverse effects.

Laughter and diversity

Laughing also has the social function of easing tension and anger. So, when I work with groups around diversity, complexity and change, I use a lot of humour. When people feel offended, threatened, confused or stressed, laughter improves the emotional climate. Studies show people in leadership roles use humour as a way to moderate group dynamics.

Anyone can use humour and laughter to diffuse situations where they may have made a gaffe or mistake, or just simply don't know what to do. The key to making it work, though, is to laugh at yourself, not others. It's not about belittling yourself, but rather being authentic about your foibles, vulnerability and common human frailty. Laughing at these things demonstrates awareness and humility, as well as signalling to others that you are a confident person, complete with your imperfections.


Marshall Brain "How Laughter Works" 1 April 2000.
HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/laughter.htm> 2 March 2016

Wikipedia "Laughter" 10 April 2005
Wikipedia.org. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter> 2 March 2016

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