How Humor Can Help Your Driving Fears (and Your Life!)

laughterYou may scream that there is absolutely, positively nothing funny at all about suffering from a litany of driving fears, driving anxiety or all-out driving phobia. And you’re right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use humor to help lessen the fears and improve your overall life.

Benefits of Being Humorous

A wide range of studies have long spelled out the benefits of being a humorous communicator, Psychology Today tells us. But there’s a catch. You can’t just think you’re funny to reap the benefits. Those around you have to think you’re funny for it to work. Being a truly funny guy or gal is dubbed having high levels of “humor orientation,” abbreviated HO. Those with high HO get high levels of laughs while those with low levels of HO probably go on to do things like sit around libraries and yell at people for giggling.

Benefits of being a humorous communicator include:

  • Generally being less lonely than low HO folks
  • Being viewed as a competent communicator
  • Ability to cope better than low HO-ers in difficult situations

The latter observation came out of an examination of nurses in the depths of a highly stressful occupation as well as folks who worked while attending school full-time. In both scenarios, those who learned to incorporate humor into their lives learned to better cope with their grand slam of daily stressors.

Humor can also help your intimate relationships, as evidenced by research co-conducted by Psychology Today blogger Sean Horan. He and his fellows looked at relationships that would be considered stressful, specifically those where one-half of the couple worked as a police officer.

The research found those that the funnier folks reported:

  • Fewer disagreements with their romantic partner
  • Fewer hostile and intense conflict discussions
  • Lower levels of stress

Humor to Quash Fears

Humor can be an effective tool for decreasing your driving fears, driving anxiety and even driving phobias. A study published in the Journal of General Psychology found humor to be highly effective for reducing one of the more common phobias kicking around: the fear of spiders. Not to piddle about, researchers brought out the big guns for the test, using the massively meaty American tarantula.

A batch of 40 spider-fearing students were gathered for the study and divided into three groups to gauge the effectiveness of different treatment plans. The first group received systematic desensitization to reduce their fear of spiders, the second received humor desensitization and the third remained untreated to serve as the control group.

After six fear desensitization sessions, researchers saw the group that received humor desensitization treatment to quash their fear of spiders exhibited a reduction in fear levels equal to those that received the traditional, ho-hum fear desensitization treatment. The control group remained quaking in their boots. Humor proved equally as effective, and probably more fun, than traditional fear-reduction techniques.

Humor Produces Euphoria

Another study, this one published in the journal Neuron, reported that humor has an effect on the brain that is similar to the euphoria one can get from drugs. And humor is usually legal. The study examined functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, aka fMRI scans, to measure brain activity of 16 adults. They checked out the activity when the adults were viewing funny cartoons and not-so-funny cartoons and found that funny cartoons:

  • Stimulated the brain centers that process language
  • Stimulated the brain’s reward centers to churn out loads of dopamine

Dopamine is a potent neurotransmitter that doubles as king of the pleasure-reward system, Psych Central reminds us. When that king shows his pleasure by reigning in high levels, you can’t help but feel pleasure yourself.

Psych Central noted these findings point to humor as a powerful therapeutic tool that may potentially serve to reset the pleasure-reward center of the brain. If so, this could be a major plus for folks who suffer from depression and anxiety and have a very sad king that rarely sends out even a little bit of dopamine.

What Happens if You’re Just Not Funny?

Folks with low levels of HO need not despair. Just because you typically don’t go around making people laugh doesn’t mean you can’t use humor to your advantage. There was no indication that folks who took part in the spider study had high levels of HO, although some of them may have. They reaped the benefits of humor by simply being exposed to it.

That means a night at the comedy club, treating yourself to humorous reading, movies or TV shows and similar moves that bring a laugh or two into your life are equally as likely to lighten your load. Hanging out with your own little posse of high HO-ers is also likely to help, as is tuning into an amusing radio broadcast or popping in a silly CD while you’re driving down the road.

The Power of Humorous Thinking

Just as you can help condition yourself into positive thinking by surrounding yourself with positive people and inspirational quotes stuck the bathroom mirror, you may be able to do the same with humorous thinking.

Place several humorous quotes, amusing cartoons and funny photos of friends, family and pets in highly visible areas around your home, office and in your car. Why not try a funny-face photo in the center of your steering wheel? As long as you don’t let it distract you from keeping your eyes on the road, it may help shake your brain out of driving fear and into a more comforting and downright delightful arena.


Study info:

  • Higbee G, Murdock SA, Ventis LW. Using Humor in Systematic Desensitization to Reduce Fear. The Journal of General Psychology. 2001; 128(2): 241-253.

Photo Credit: melgupta via Compfight cc