Laughing in the Face of Fear

It takes courage to laugh in the face of fear.

How do you react when you are afraid? I am not proud to say that I tend to either shut down and go inward or I ruminate and think about all the possible outcomes making me feel more anxious, ready to fight whatever is coming at me.

And all of that is okay.

But sometimes I face fearful situations with humour. Somehow, it helps me stand in the fear, and more clearly consider how to deal with whatever is happening.

Laughter reduces stress and can help us get back into the present if we have flown down the tunnel of future worries. It can make a difficult situation easier to talk about and it can disarm a person. But we should be careful about when and how we use laughter in facing our fears.

For example, I find my bone tumour (a probable chondrosarcoma) to be very frightening. I am very afraid of what could happen, even though I know that as long as it remains inside the bone, it will likely not spread. When I was first diagnosed, I was afraid to talk about it, even with my therapist. So I named my tumour. I called her Tina. Tina Tumour. It is a lot easier to discuss how Tina is doing. And it makes me laugh every time I say it. It also gives other people permission to ask about it in a way that makes them less uncomfortable.

But sometimes it’s not a good idea to laugh in frightening situations. I have heard a story over the years about my great-grandmother. A very small lady, my Gramma was walking through the park at night (maybe not a great idea but it was also a different time I guess) when a flasher jumped out (picture creepy guy in trench coat) and flashed her.

What would you do? Scream? Kick him? Run away? Freeze? I imagine I would do any of those things. But as the story was shared with me, my Gramma looked the naked offender up and down and calmly stated, “now don’t you look stupid.” The guy ran away.

I love that story and while I am unsure how much of it is fact and how much is embellished from being told so many times, the point is that she had the courage to laugh in the face of fear. Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation in 2019, however, I recommend you NOT make a joke, that you call 911 and that you find safety.

It is also not a great idea to make jokes about people’s illnesses unless and until you know they are dealing with it with humour.

We all deal with fear in a million different ways. Our fight, flight or freeze response is involuntary and is designed to protect us in the moment when something very frightening is happening to us. Let me reiterate that it is involuntary. So not laughing in the face of fear in the moment does not make you less-than-courageous. It makes you a survivor.

But it also takes courage, once we are able to assess the situation, to find ways of coping with fearful situations. One way is to laugh. So if I make a joke about Tina or about my upcoming surgery or about how I imagined that when I fell that my bone had broken open and cancer cells were freely flowing through my body, please don’t get angry with me. I am finding a way to deal with something very scary. And it takes courage for me to laugh instead of shutting down, and instead of minimizing it.

What frightens you today? Is there something you can do to lighten your body’s response? Give it a try. Tell the flasher he looks stupid. Name your tumour after a singing legend. I don’t know what that will mean for you. But I do know that it is ok to laugh. It is ok to joke. If it helps you face your fear instead of hiding from it, go for it.

And if you need someone to share your fear with, who can hold some space for you to build up your courage to face the fear, or even to laugh at it, please reach out. We never have to face the scary times alone.


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