According to the World Health Organization, March 11, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not an understatement to say that the world had been turned upside down in the past year, and to this day we are still waiting longingly for a foreseeable end. After a year of relentless reports, discussions, and speculations on the viral mutations and spread, supply of vaccines, ever changing public health orders, government conspiracies and conflicts among individuals/groups; we have grown accustomed to bad news, disappointing news and conflicting news. While the medical experts had warned that the vaccine was never a silver bullet, we of the public had nevertheless hoped that the vaccine would bring with it a dose of normalcy—a way of life we once knew prior to the pandemic, which is now growing more distant by the day. The glimmer of hope was dulled by reports of supply shortage and emerging new virus variants, whose risks remain unknown compared with the original threats.
Lockdowns, social distancing, isolation and disconnection have become the new normal. Excitement, enjoyment, pleasure, security and connection have since been replaced by boredom, numbness, grief, loneliness, anxiety and frustration. On top of the suppressed and unmet emotional, physical, social and spiritual needs, the constant demand to adapt to the changes and limitations posed on our daily operations over the past year had naturally predisposed us to “COVID-19 Fatigue.” With COVID-19 fatigue, individuals are less likely to adhere to public health orders and are more prone to deterioration in mental health. As such, the vicious cycle of COVID-19 risks, violence, and poor mental health perpetuates. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong’s article on “7 Reasons Why the New Normal May be Good for You” in the December 2020 issue of this newsletter suggested helpful ways for us to transcend our sufferings and find true joy through transformative growth during the pandemic.
On the lighter side of things, research suggests that the use of humor has proven to be a helpful way to stay afloat amid difficult times. First responders, the law enforcement officials, funeral industry employees, military and medical personnel, and so on have long employed humor to buffer the stress from the dark side of life inherent in their jobs. The use of humor enables one to cognitively re-appraise the threatening and stressful situation, thus dampening the experienced stress and anxiety (Abel, 2002). In fact, there are many benefits to the positive use of humor. On the mental health level, humor decreases anxiety, depression and mental stress. Moreover, habitual use of positive humor is positively correlated with optimism, self-esteem, internal locus of control and extraversion (Ford, Lappi, & Holden; 2016; Schneider, Voracek, & Tran; 2018). It has shown to release tension; enhance perceptual flexibility, creativity and problem solving skills; and simulates positive neural connections involved in connectedness, love and affection (Ma, 2014, June 17). Humor also has a positive effect on physical health: It strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and increases pain tolerance. Thus, in health care settings, it is utilized to boost positive mood, resilience and hope in patients, as in the case of clown care, also known as hospital clowning (and in more recent times, superheroes visits).
But before we rush off to find the closest thing that can tickle our funny bones, we should keep in mind that not all humor is created equal. In fact, Martin et al. (2003) suggested that only the use of self-enhancing and affiliative humor yield positive effects. According to their research, affiliative humor serves to enhance the interpersonal relationships among individuals and group members. It entails friendly jokes and funny bantering that promote acceptance of oneself and others, which helps ease tensions among individuals and increase group cohesion. Self-enhancing humor can be understood as a humorous outlook on life and the ability to perceive in a light-hearted manner the absurdities and adversities of life. Hence, self-enhancing humor serves as an adaptive coping mechanism and emotion regulation tool.
On the other hand, the study also pointed out that harmful use of humor such as self-defeating humor and aggressive humor is no laughing matter (pun intended) as these two types of humor involve degrees of hostility, manipulation and self-deprecation that run the risks of ruining relationships and are potentially detrimental to one’s well-being. These types of humor are correlated with increased neuroticism and negative emotions, as well as decreased relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being and self-esteem.
In conclusion, positive use of humor can function as an adaptive coping method and can rejuvenate our mental and physical health amid our prolonged engagement with the COVID-19 virus. If we need to endure this pandemic awhile longer and experience the negative emotions in the meantime, why not add some comical and amusing elements into the mix? In doing so, we can experience the full range of emotions, both positive and negative, until we announce our eventual triumph over these unwanted invisible mutants. So, what can we do to help battle COVID-19 fatigue? Perhaps try to view the infuriating, anxiety provoking or depressing situation with a comical filter, be it a cat one, to rejuvenate your positive mood and energy. So the next time you are experiencing the lows from the pandemic, be sure to balance it with a good dose of humor and laughter.
Abel, M. H. (2002). Humor, stress, and coping strategies. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 15(4), 365–381. Doi: 10.1515/humr.15.4.365
Ford, T., Lappi, S.. & Holden, C. (2016). Personality, Humor Styles and Happiness: Happy People Have Positive Humor Styles. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 12(3), 320–337. Doi: 10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1160
Ma, M. (2014, June 17). The Power of Humor in Ideation and Creativity. Psychology Today. [online]
Martin, R. A. (2002). Is laughter the best medicine? Humor, laughter, and physical health. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(6), 216–220. Doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00204
Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 48-75. Doi: 10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00534-2
Schneider, M., Voracek, M., & Tran, U. S. (2018). ‘‘A joke a day keeps the doctor away?’’ Meta-analytical evidence of differential associations of habitual humor styles with mental health. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 59(3), 289-300.