Using humour to defuse tensions

Do you ever feel that you spend hours in a state of high alert, where one more hassle feels like the last straw? The research quoted in our November issue (book blog – Your Brain On Nature) shows that many of us do indeed spend far too long in this state. To help you wind down for Christmas, here are some pointers on using humour to escape your anxieties:

Use parody:

Find a way to send up or satirise the situation or person which is bothering you. Can you find the ridiculous aspects? Exaggerating everything can help.
Comic hero: Think of a comic character you like, and imagine that they play your part in the situation. For example, Groucho Marx was a role model for me throughout my serious management career, for his exuberant wit and irreverence. Here’s a small example:

      Angry Man to Groucho: What are you, a man or a mouse?

     Groucho to Angry Man: Well, put a piece of cheese on the floor and you will find out.

You may prefer John Cleese or Sandi Toksvig. Whoever you choose, hopefully you can make yourself laugh by putting them in your position.


Try turning the entire problem situation on its head. If someone is angry with you, imagine them suddenly becoming charming and conciliatory. If the authorities are hassling you, imagine they send you a bouquet and an apology. Let yourself fantasise about what you would ideally like, and enjoy it.


Find a perspective or point of view which helps you scale down the magnitude of the situation which is bothering you. Here’s one of my many favourite examples from Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
A huge battle fleet of enormous galactic spacecraft, heavily armed, hurtles across space intent on destroying the Earth. Due to a design error of scale, the entire battle fleet disappears into the ear of a bemused dog.

Heroic arrival:

Think of a favourite hero or heroine from strip cartoons or movies, maybe Batman or Wonder Woman. Perhaps they are suddenly standing by your side, or you morph into them. Either way, see what the hero/heroine with magical powers would say and do to resolve the situation. It could be quite satisfying in clearing your frustrations!


Think of a favourite strip cartoon, and how they might respond to the problem you are facing. See if you can find the comic twist which they would use. Here’s one of my favourite Charlie Brown quotes from Peanuts:

      No problem is too big of complex that it can’t be walked away from.