The Covid-19 outbreak has created a storm for isolation, depression, and anxiety in our communities. Determining the positive ways to address these mental health challenges is necessary both for short term and long-term health. Scientist Scott C. Anderson says that laughter and frights may help us become more resistant to a pandemic.
Stress resilience during Covid-19 pandemic
Citing a new study that appeared in Preprint, Anderson explained that people who enjoy gory entertainment, like horror films, are better prepared during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that although the pandemic seems unreal to us modern humans, those who were fans of alien-invasion, zombie, and apocalyptic films showed greater psychological resilience to the pandemic. This is because these movies are “useful simulation” that train their mind to deal with uncomfortable situations.
Ironically, though, the scientist believes that much of the discomfort that we feel today is due to people’s success in treating past epidemics too. Experts have already wiped out measles, severely limited polio, smallpox, and other terrifying diseases. It is also rare for us now to run from bears, tigers, and lions compared to our ancestors. This is probably why there are people who watch scary movies or ride rollercoasters as these are jolt reminders of the real life-threatening situations that we have already left in the prescientific past.
Anderson added that life is calmer with wild in the zoo. However, instead of dangerous predators, people now endure low-level of stress from their work, for instance. The stress causes their body to release cortisol, readying the body for a fight or flight response. Running away from a boss that’s causing stress may cause the employee to get fired and it is also unwise to fight the employer. As a result, the cortisol puts the immune system in low priority when the sensible idea is to deal with the flu or run from the tiger.
Accumulation of stress hormones leads to inflammation, which will also affect every other organ in the body, including the brain. This should be given notice since the brain responds to inflammation with depression and anxiety. This is why the recent study posits that scary films are useful simulations that psychologically train a person on what they can do with the apocalyptic environment. Horror movie fans get terrified but remain in a safe setting, enabling them to reflect on their reaction.
Does this mean that people should watch horror films? Anderson answers, “maybe not” especially for people who value untroubled sleep. Scary films can be difficult, especially that computer-generated imagery (GCI) has made these films even scarier. In the fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth, for instance, digital effects brought two of the most memorable charters to life. Such includes the horrifying signature eyes-in hand and the legs of Pale Man and Pan. The slasher film Halloween H20: 20 Years Later also used a GCI mask.
“Laughter is the best medicine”
If horror is not the way to mentally fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic, Anderson says perhaps giggles is the way to go. A sense of humor can provide people with resilience and it can help them cope with worries and fears. Although it may seem odd, knowing that other people are getting sick and dying due to the coronavirus, we need comedians. Even after World War II and the Great Depression, Hollywood released more funny movies than pre-war.
Studies have shown that laughter enhances the function of the blood vessels, protects the heart, and increases the blood flow.
But is it okay to laugh during a pandemic with the popularity of funny videos and memes relating to Covid-19? Aberystwyth University's Lecturer in Psychology Gil Greengross believes yes, it can help us ease some of the tension. Although the situation is serious and many people are preoccupied with more mundane tasks, laughter can release emotional and psychological energy that was built up and it will help us to feel good. He said that people may not yet change the economic impact and reality of the disease but they can try and change how they feel about the situation.
We should not laugh at the victims of the virus, those suffering from it, or the tragedy itself but we can look at humor as a defense mechanism to deal with unpredictable situations. Greengross said that even doctors and cancer patients routinely tell jokes about the disease to distract themselves from the seriousness of the situation.
In a survey involving 812 US respondents, 60% completely agree with the statement that laughter is still the best medicine while only 1.2% completely disagree. About 8.6% neither agree nor disagree. The data is provided by a database company Statista. Comedy also remains the most popular movie genres among adults in the US as of 2018. The top-grossing movies in history include Meet the Fockers ( $279,167,575 total gross), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me ($206,040,085), Bruce Almighty ($242,704,995), Liar Liar ($181,410,615), and The Hangover ($277,322,503), as published by movie financial analysis platform The Numbers.
When appropriate and possible, try to share a light moment or a laugh with a loved one or a friend during this unprecedented time.
When endorphins make you want to party
Anderson cautions, though, that endorphins may make us want to party. This is tricky nowadays with the physical distancing required to slow the spread of the disease. Not to mention that people rarely laugh out loud when they are alone. Such could be an issue during quarantine, he added. But thanks to technology as it is now possible to host “Netflix parties” and gather virtually to video chat while watching movies with friends.
Statista added that Netflix sees unprecedented growth amid pandemic. About 16 million people signed up for their service in the first quarter and another 10 million subscribers were added by the end of June. Market research and consulting company Parks Associates’ research director Steve Nason also told The Verge that it is a natural profession for Netflix. “People are consuming, not just Netflix, but all kinds of video content at an unprecedented level,” he added.
Coronavirus has increased the uncertainty over finances, jobs, and health. However, even if life is out of our control, we can take steps to better cope. Maybe it’s time to pop the corn and choose to either giggle or scream to keep isolation and anxiety from paralyzing our life.