The Importance of Laughter for Your Student’s Stress Management

By: Tim Elmore

Whenever I meet with students, it seems something hilarious is bound to happen. It’s part of adolescence—to seek out the bizarre, to poke fun, and to laugh at ourselves. I’ve come to believe it’s part of dealing with stress. I’ve heard from middle school and high school educators recently who shared some of their amusing moments on Zoom with their students, that had everyone laughing:

  • “One of my students brought us out to her trampoline, then jumped the entire morning class period, with the Chromebook in her hands.” 
  • “One of my students works at his dad’s lumber company, and he was literally cutting down trees while reviewing for a test.”
  • I had to tell one of my students: “Please don’t use the webcam or computer screen as a mirror when you floss your teeth.” 

Is It Really A Time for Laughter?

I recognize you might be thinking—but is now a time to be laughing? Just look at the mess we’re in with schools attempting to manage COVID-19, and keeping student safety and performance high during a pandemic? It’s true—many are still worried. 

A Pew Research Center survey found that 68 percent of parents are somewhat or very concerned that their children will fall behind in school as a result of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, a majority of parents are still worried about their children being exposed to the virus at school, with 62 percent saying they are somewhat or very concerned. 

The fact is, we’re not out of the woods regarding our struggle in education. 

I wonder, however, if that’s exactly why we need to insert a bit of humor into our day. When our brains are stressed out, the amygdala kicks in and places us into fight-or-flight mode. Emotions tend to rule our decision-making process when we’re afraid. Students frequently don’t test well. Lesson plans don’t flow well for teachers. Often, we aren’t operating as our best selves. 

Is it possible that leveraging laughter could be an antidote to these high-stress levels? I love the proverb from King Solomon: “Laughter doeth good like medicine.” What if well-positioned humor could relieve the strain of a monotonous remote learning session?

The Research Behind the Relieving Role of Laughter? 

I’m not joking: research shows that laughter can lower your student’s stress levels. According to research from the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the symptoms of stress.

Further, laughter has long-term effects as well, including improving our immune system, relieving pain, increasing personal satisfaction, and improving our mood. That’s a gift we all can use right about now. 

Laughter and Generation Z

Every new generation has preferences regarding humor. According to research from the Barna Research Institute, Gen Z’s preferences for humor range from dark, absurd, and self-deprecating to uplifting and nuanced. Many of us as caring adults agree they’re often difficult to understand (see Buzzfeed’s list: 21 Jokes That Will Make 100% Sense to Gen Zers and 75% Sense to Millennials). When Generation Z respondents were offered a series of statements about humor preferences:

  • 84 percent find things to be funny that their parents do not.
  • 71 percent agree they spend lots of time perusing memes online. 
  • 64 percent say that what they find funny is “dark and cynical.” 
  • 63 percent admitted that what they find funny they really shouldn’t. 
  • 55 percent agree that humor is a form of rebellion for their generation. 

So, how do we put this research to good use? 

Three Tips to Get You Started

In case you don’t spend lots of time reflecting on how to utilize humor and laughter in your classroom or home, let me offer a short list of ideas below to get you started:

1. Identify memes to illustrate themes 

For teens and young adults today, memes are a distinct cultural artifact. You can find them all over social media and they are the natural language for Gen Z. Why not identify some funny memes that actually point to a theme or subject you wish to talk about?

2. Utilize self-deprecating humor

It’s almost never wrong to poke fun at yourself. When teachers can laugh at themselves it makes the learning environment psychologically safer and may invite others to join in eventually. Make sure it’s not at the expense of a classmate. Be secure enough to laugh at yourself in front of others. 

3. Leverage YouTube and Netflix

Students spent loads of hours on Netflix and YouTube this past year in quarantine. Why not find some “fail” videos on YouTube or some other crazy clip to set up a discussion about a relevant topic? Humor is everywhere and can be good “edutainment.” 

Norman Cousins illustrates the medicinal benefits of laughter as well as anyone I know. Norman was diagnosed with a painful collagen illness that rendered him immobile. His doctor and long-time friend Dr. William Hitzig put it to him bluntly: only one of every five hundred people diagnosed with this disease fully recovers. To beat these odds, he quickly decided to study why his body was reacting the way it was, and how to reverse the damage. He discovered that his body and immune system had been worn down by stress. After reading Dr. Hans Selye’s book, “The Stress of Life,” he wondered that if stress had induced his sickly condition, could laughter undo it? 

Mr. Cousins chose to watch hours of comedy films and TV, including Marx Brothers movies, Candid Camera, The Three Stooges, and others. Cousins found that just ten minutes a day of hearty laughter increased his sleep each night by two hours. He continued and discovered almost miraculous results. After years of continuous laughter therapy, Norman Cousins experienced little to no pain anymore, the disease shrunk and he went on to live until he was 75 years old.

What did King Solomon say? Laughter doeth good like medicine? 

In the end, using laughter and humor is a form of perspective-taking and stress management, two competencies in Social and Emotional Learning. If this sounds relevant to your classroom and you’d like to check out our Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning, CLICK HERE.

The Importance of Laughter for Your Student's Stress Management