Holding Back Laughter

Laughter is a built-in emotion we express before we even learn to talk. We have been laughing as early as three months into our lives. Holding back laughter is hard for some people. Let’s find out how to help it.

Laughter is the universal way to connect and communicate with each other. When you laugh at a stranger’s joke, you let them know you want to interact with them because it makes you look approachable and friendly.

It eliminates the awkwardness and uneasiness we feel upon encountering new people immediately. It gains them your trust and helps you form a bond with them.

Why Laughter is Good

Other than helping you create bonds and friendships, laughter also confers several health benefits:

  • Laughing increases the oxygen supply to your heart, lungs, and muscles.
  • It also releases stress and tension by increasing and decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure and inducing your brain to release endorphins, hormones that make you happy.
  • Laughter also enhances your immunity by decreasing stress. 
  • It acts as a natural painkiller.
  • It improves your mood and boosts your self-esteem.

Why do we laugh in inappropriate situations?

Laughing to connect may be helpful, but sometimes laughter can be uncontrollable and unintended. It can happen in situations you don’t want to laugh and leave you feeling embarrassed.

Psychology professor Margaret Clark at Yale University attributed such behavior to the accumulation of excessive emotions and negative energy. You laugh at a grave situation to minimize the intensity of the initial emotion. It relaxes your body, making it more convenient to deal with the severity of the initial emotion. So, it is a plausible reaction for some people under stressful circumstances.

But laughing at an unsuitable situation can still make you look like a weirdo. Unless you want to be ousted as a misfit, you must do something about it.

How Do You Hold Back Laughter?

holding back your laughter

There is no ‘cure’ for your inexplicable laugh, but there are measures you can take to hold in laughter:

Create distractions

When you find yourself laughing in an ill-suited situation, find distractions that can take your mind off and shift your thoughts away from the emotion that triggered you to laugh.

  • Pick a particular color and then try to find that color in the room. Take mental notes of how many places you can see that color. 
  • Do you have any chores you need to tend to? Make a list of them—weekly laundry, dishwasher loading, groceries to pick, pending assignments. Think about everything you need to do.
  • Sing a song to yourself. Not out loud, of course.
  • Pinch your skin. 

Be mindful of your laughter

Stay conscious and practice mindfulness exercises to curb your laughter.

  • Take deep breaths, and focus on the movement of the air while breathing in and out.
  • Think about a word that can keep your focus. Keep repeating that word mentally. Do not judge the thoughts that may accompany it until you no longer have the urge to laugh.
  • Deliberately focus on each part of your body from head to toe and back. Take note of the sensation you feel upon scanning your body.

Address the causes behind laughter

Uncontrollable laughter can be caused by many different conditions.

  • Anxious people may laugh out of nervousness in stressful conditions.
  • An autistic person perceives a situation differently than a neurotypical person, resulting in ill-timed laughter.
  • Mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome, and neurological disorders also affect people’s ability to deem a situation unfeasible for laughter.
  • People with the pseudobulbar affect experience emotional outbursts that can make them laugh or cry at inappropriate times.

See a therapist if you have or think you may have any of these conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with OCD and Tourette syndrome to suppress laughter. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are often recommended for people with mental and neurological disorders.

Try to laugh later

Clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin suggests making a mental note to laugh at a later time that is appropriate for it. Excuse yourself from the room when you feel an outburst of laughter incoming. Take deep breaths and calm yourself.

If you can’t escape that situation, envision yourself laughing out loud with your friend or family later. Just pause your need to laugh for the time being and indulge in it later.

Apologize for your laughter

In case you could not hold back your laugh in a situation that did not warrant it, your only option is to go for damage control. Let the offended people know about your inability to control laughter and what causes it, and apologize for it.

People are often kind enough to understand where you are coming from. Talking to people also relieves nervousness, making you laugh less.

Write down about your need for laughter

Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Write about how you have been appropriate and in control of your ability to laugh up until now and how you can continue to do so until you are out of this situation.

Ask yourself, “how can I hold my laughter?” and “what happens when I hold back laughter?” Think of the awkwardness saved when you manage to control your laughter.

Once you are out of the situation, let yourself laugh to your heart’s content. It is the best way to hold in laughter.

Several reasons underline people’s inability to suppress laughter in inappropriate situations. Fortunately, there are multiple ways that people can utilize to curb it, including treatment options for mental and neurological disorders. Explaining yourself and apologizing can also help you avoid many awkward situations.


How do you hold your laugh back?

There are several ways to hold back your laugh: Distract yourself from the triggers that make you laugh. Excuse yourself from the company that may deem your sudden and unexpected outbursts of laughter inappropriate, and laugh later. Journal everything about your laughing problem. Seek help from experts if you suffer from severe health conditions that affect your ability to control laughter.

What causes you to laugh?

Humor makes people laugh, but what people find funny is subjective. Humans laugh due to their innate desire to stay connected and communicate. Another reason for laughter is community. People are more likely to laugh at a joke with other people than they are alone.

What is your method of holding back laughter in a serious situation?

Taking deep breaths and envisioning how others around me might find me insensitive and offended help me curb laughter in serious situations.

Why is it so hard to suppress laughter?

Once induced, laughter is hard to suppress because it is an involuntary mechanism, like breathing and heart beating. You do not perform this action voluntarily, so you cannot stop it willingly either.

What does it mean to suppress a laugh?

To suppress a laugh means to laugh scornfully.

What is a suppressed laugh called?

Several words are used to refer to a suppressed laugh, such as snicker, snigger, chortle, smirk, etc.

How do you say I can’t stop laughing?

You can use several expressions instead:

“I burst out laughing.” “It is hilarious.” “It was comical.”

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