Humor and Its Effects on Anxiety Disorders

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Running head: HUMOR AND ITS EFFECTS ON ANXIETY DISORDERS1
Humor and Its Effects on Anxiety Disorders

The University of Vermont

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to evaluate humor as an alternative treatment for anxiety disorders. The hypothesis was that the continuous showing of a twenty-minute, funny episode of the participant’s choice, showed once a day for one month would continuously lower both SUD measures and systolic blood pressure values when measured directly after treatment. Furthermore, the humorous element of the show was hypothesized to reduce anxiety when the participant was exposed to a stressful situation (stressful virtual puzzle). Sixty participants (35 women, 15 men, Mage = 33 years, age range: 18-60 years) were referred from therapists in the Burlington area and were chosen if they met the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for anxiety tested by a pre-experimental anxiety evaluation test (American Psychological Association [DSM-IV-TR] 2000). The study design was a 2 x 3 experimental design. The treatment group showed a significant change before and after treatment for systolic blood pressure measures, SUD ratings, and puzzle scores, in contrast to the control group that showed no change for each measure. These findings suggest that humor can affect both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders. Further research should focus on other ways to introduce humor as an independent variable.

Keywords: Anxiety, Humor

Humor and Its Effects on Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health problems in the U.S according to the National Comorbidity Survey- Replication (NCS-R), a nationally representative survey which includes data on DSM-IV psychiatric diagnoses. The survey estimates anxiety levels to be at 19.1 % per year, after the last twelve-month study (Kessler, R., Berglund, P., Demier, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K., & Walters, E., 2005, June). Although, there is considerable heterogeneity between anxiety percentages among studies, it is evident that anxiety is a national concern. Thus it is not surprising that extensive research is being conducted to find possible treatments. According to the DSM-IV-TR, in order to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a person must display excessive and uncontrollable anxiety and worry about a variety of events and situations over the span of at least six months. In these six months at least three of a series of different symptoms that include irritability, fatigue, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, concentration problems and restlessness must have occurred (DSM-IV-TR, 2000 ). Currently benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax or Valium), and newer options like antidepressants and beta-blockers are being prescribed to people that fall under the anxiety disorder category; however, many alternatives to anti- anxiety medication have since been explored such as the benefits of exercise and a good diet. For instance, omega 3 fatty acids are believed to reduce anxiety (Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Belury, M., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W., & Glaser, R., 2011), as is exercise (Szabo, A. 2013). This research supports the idea that anxiety is influenced by external factors rather than just by a predisposed condition. Therefore, mental health seems to be an important component in anxiety prevention. This study aims to research an alternative treatment for anxiety by exploring the effects that humor has on people affected by anxiety disorders. Humor, was chosen as a treatment because the supplemental motor area of the brain is thought to contribute to the response to humor, which is believed to play a role in relaxation (Lengacher, C., &...
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