Can you laugh in a crisis? Sometimes, laughter feels inappropriate. But laughter occurs in surgical rooms, during military operations, and even as we grieve the death of a loved one. Our capacity to laugh in the face of adversity is one of our most vital coping skills. We shouldn’t be embarrassed that we laugh. It is a normal reaction to stressful situations.
Today, we will explore why we are reluctant to laugh in a crisis, three benefits of learning to laugh in a crisis, and how we can increase our ability to respond with laughter in a crisis.
Why are we reluctant to laugh in a crisis?
We have been taught that our typical reaction in a stressful situation is to freeze, flee, or stay and fight.
We may favor a particular response based on our temperament or social upbringing.
Depending on our viewpoint, we might think that the fighter is either courageous or ill-tempered and that the individual who flees is cowardly – or wise enough to live to fight another day.
“In prehistoric times, humanity often had only two choices in crises: fight or flee. In modern times, humor offers us a third alternative; fight, flee – or laugh.” Robert Orben.
Some individuals are hesitant to use laughter in a time of crisis. To them, it feels disruptive and is not in their current skill set.
But I believe there are three benefits to learning to laugh in a crisis that outweighs our discomfort.
Three benefits of learning to laugh in a crisis.
First, laughter disrupts our freeze response and releases the tension that paralyzes us.
A crisis, by its very nature, is disruptive. Laughter is a normal response to that crisis. What we laugh at in a difficult season can reveal our fears and insecurities. We can use that laughter to help us identify problems and solutions.
Laughter disrupts our bodies and our minds. Our bodies give evidence of this disruption. It starts with a smirk, then a smile, a small chuckle, a loud guttural noise, a snorting nose, a belly laugh, and sometimes ends with tears. Laughter disrupts our standard thought patterns. We encounter a thought or wordplay that surprises us, and our minds respond. Sometimes, presenting a solution that would have otherwise evaded us.
Second, learning to laugh at ourselves enables us to lead others. The ability to laugh at ourselves makes us relatable, lovable, and approachable. It demonstrates that we have the mindset to lead ourselves and others. It makes us a person that others will turn to when they face difficulty.
Jodi Flynn, the author of Accomplished, says that “If you are going to go big, to dare to change the world and be seen, you’re going to need your sense of humor.”
If you want to lead well, you must be able to laugh at yourself.
When we laugh at ourselves it frees others to laugh with us. Notice, I said with us, not at us.
Third, laughing with others creates a community. It is how strong teams are built. There is a bond that forms from interacting with others through laughter and adversity. Laughter can validate another person’s perspective, remove social barriers, and create a shared experience. Shared experiences are powerful.
When we can laugh at ourselves and with others, we find the strength to move forward despite our circumstances.
Like any soft skill, using laughter in a crisis takes practice. This is a case where less is really more.
Here are some suggestions to increase our ability to laugh in a crisis.
- Practice smiling in the morning in front of a mirror.
- Listen to the famous baby laughing video on Youtube. Over 12 million people have seen this video.
- Set aside time each day to intentionally laugh.
- Remember, a moment you thought was funny and relive it in your mind.
- If nothing personal comes to mind, have an audio or video you can play that causes you to smile or laugh.
Call to action.
What is your normal response to a crisis? Is it working for you, or should you consider the disruptive power of laughter? Have you considered the role that humor might play in addressing trauma?