Posted on March 16, 2020

Humor can help people take precautions against coronavirus disease and adapt to its impact on daily life – if it is used in the right way.

That is the view of Dr. Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi, Director of Student Wellness & Counseling at Georgetown University in Qatar – a QF partner university – who says that while the public should follow official health guidance amid the COVID-19 outbreak, this doesn’t necessarily have to prevent them from having fun. “Dealing with COVID-19 should be done with rationality,” she said. “We should neither exaggerate nor minimize the importance of the situation and its impact, but instead keep a balanced view and follow guidelines, because otherwise we may experience negative psychological impacts on individuals and the community.

“From a psychological view, humor – if used appropriately – is good and healthy, especially in difficult times. A good sense of humor helps individuals and brings the community together, because we can communicate effectively through humor. “There is a fine line between using appropriate humor and meanness and stereotyping. Good humor lightens the mood and raises people’s spirits. Obviously, if jokes are taken out of proportion, exaggerate or minimize the gravity of an issue, and if they are at the expense of certain groups of people, then it is not humor, it is hostility. “I have seen some humorous videos about avoiding shaking hands, how to greet other people while respecting them, and how to follow proper hygiene guidelines. These are all good ways to communicate through humor.”

Dr. Mousavi explained that people use humor as a form of coping, communicating, and expressing emotions. “We in the Middle East tend to be caring, collective, and connective.” she said. “One of the best ways of controlling direct contact with others in order to avoid the spread of coronavirus is to use appropriate humor and lighthearted and caring comments like ‘Not hugging is caring’ or ‘Not shaking hands to be cool’.” She also emphasized that people should not be limiting activities they enjoy unless there are specific guidelines for them to avoid these. “If people are practicing good hygiene and following the guidelines, they still can go out for a picnic or go shopping, and have fun activities,” she said.

As for the workplace impact of COVID-19, Dr. Mousavi said: “If there are ways that people can do their jobs remotely by email or phone and video calls for some time, without being in direct communication with other people particularly in small physical spaces, this can be a good practice. “Working remotely can actually decrease the stigma and the risk of someone feeling insulted if we don’t meet them. It can bring about a change of mindset, because at the moment we can explain to people that a meeting is not necessary because our health and the health of others is the priority, and this helps them to realize that not meeting directly is not a reason for taking any offense."

Regarding the psychological impact of self-isolating due to COVID-19, Dr. Mousavi said that as humans we like to move freely, rather than be isolated, but health precautions take priority. "Quarantining yourself does not mean a complete isolation, as people can come together using social media and through other forms of communication,” she said. “It can actually be very beneficial, presenting a great opportunity for us to read a book we always wanted to read, or to complete a project. It is also important to create some sort of structure for ourselves. And, most importantly, it is important to know that it is best practice that is needed to protect ourselves and protect others. “We must all be responsible for protecting ourselves, our families, and other members of society.”

Dr. Mousavi re-emphasized the importance of following the preventative measures that Qatar has put in place to protect the community from the spread of coronavirus, and the need for everyone to maintain good hygiene, such as by regularly washing hands and using hand sanitizers.