How your type of humour influences your risk of depression and anxiety

Woman laughing. New research has indicated a link between the type of humour we enjoy and depression and anxiety. (Getty Images)
New research has indicated a link between the type of humour we enjoy and depression and anxiety. (Getty Images)

We've long known that humour can be used as a tool for coping with stressful situations, but turns out what you find funny could have an influence on your risk of depression and anxiety.

New research, published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology, has uncovered potential connections between different types of humour and mental health.

The study suggests that benevolent humour, which is characterised by researchers as including kind-hearted jokes and good-natured teasing, is linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Meanwhile, darker forms of humour, which study authors describe as including cynicism and irony, are linked to aspects of emotional distress.

The research involved 686 Italian participants (187 men and 499 women), aged between 20 and 76 years and used two specific measures - Comic Style Markers (CSM), a questionnaire to determine participants' typical humour style and a Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21), a self-reporting questionnaire designed to measure levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

According to PsyPost the eight comic styles examined included:

  • Fun - characterised by light-heartedness and joy

  • Humour - focuses on gently poking fun at life’s quirks

  • Nonsense - absurdity and illogic

  • Wit - characterised by intellectual sharpness and cleverness

  • Irony

  • Satire - involving social critique through ridicule

  • Sarcasm - considered a more biting and direct form of verbal irony

  • Cynicism - which embodies skepticism and a mocking attitude.

The type of humour you enjoy could reduce your risk of depression. (Getty Images)
The type of humour you enjoy could reduce your risk of depression. (Getty Images)

Study authors say the findings indicate benign humour serves as a protective factor of all three variables considered - depression, anxiety and stress, while irony was positively associated with anxiety and stress.

Meanwhile it was a protective factor associated with anxiety, and sarcasm was positively related to depression.

Notably, no significant correlations were found between the other variables examined.

The link between humour and mental health

Of course, there were some limitations to the research including the fact that only one nationality was studied and the surveys were self-reported.

Study authors also highlight that due to the correlational nature of the research, establishing causal implications is challenging.

However, the research further highlights a fascinating link between humour and wellbeing. When you laugh, it triggers a release of endorphins which are natural mood-lifters and can help to reduce your cortisol levels (the stress hormone).

One study from 2021 determined that laughter therapy can lessen pro-stress factors and "mood-elevating anti-stress factors to reduce anxiety and depression".

A further study from 2016 determined that laughter could be a “noninvasive and non-pharmacological alternative treatment for stress and depression” as it can release endorphins and reverse the stress response.

Laughter is good for your mental health. (Getty Images)
Laughter is good for your mental health. (Getty Images)

"Laughing makes you feel good," explains Alison Goolnik, integrative psychotherapist at "It releases endorphins which help to reduce stress, depression and anxiety."

Having a good giggle can also help boost your mood, distract you and reduce tension.

"It connects you with others and helps to relax your body and so has a positive effect on your mental health," Goolnik continues.

"Laughter may be a simple act but it is a powerful tool that can easily used to improve your mindset, strengthen positive beliefs and enhance physical and mental wellbeing."

The best thing? Laughter therapy is accessible to us all.

"Start with smiling and then move on to a laugh, even if it is a little forced to begin with. See how it makes you feel," Goolnik adds.

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