Ceasing uncontrollable laughter
April 7, 2005 12:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop laughing?

Many a time, I have gotten into trouble for laughing so hard for so long. It's not a particularly obtrusive kind of laughter, mostly silent and involving the scrunching of eyes and the shaking of shoulders, plus the occasional sharp intake of breath and/or flow of tears. But once something sets me off, I keep going and going and going, unable to stop. Trying not to think of what triggered it doesn't help; even if I try to focus on something else, thoughts involuntarily come back to that which made me laugh in the first place and another fit starts all over again. I haven't ever clocked myself, but it can go on for a VERY long time - too long for my or anyone else's tastes.

It's been happening since grade school. It happens both socially and in more formal situations where arbitrary laughter would be frowned upon, such as a classroom setting. Sometimes it's not even that funny, or others present are unable to understand WHY the hell I'm laughing so HARD and may sometimes even think I am laughing at them and get offended, and THAT is what gets me in trouble. The thing is that I can't even explain it because either a) I am laughing too hard to speak coherently, or b) even *I* don't understand why exactly, at least not enough to be able to articulate it. It doesn't help at all that I am normally a quiet person and that I have a somewhat random sense of humor.

Is there anything I can do to stop laughing?

If complete cessation is impossible, is there anything I can do to at least reduce the the length and extent of my laughter?

Please help!
posted by Lush to Health & Fitness (26 answers total)
I usually bite down *HARD* on my tongue, that seems to stop me.
posted by neilkod at 12:59 PM on April 7, 2005

I do this when someone gets hurt, especially if it's in a slapstick sort of way. I don't mean to be mean, it's just...I can't help it! I don't think I laugh really hard or for as long as you, but I definitely giggle in a way that is generally not appreciated by the injured person.

I find taking some deep breaths and holding them and really focussing on something else gets my mind off it long enough for it to stop being hilarious. Could you maybe think of a specific phrase or something that you can repeat over and over until the urge to laugh passes? Sorry, not much help, but that's all that's ever worked for me.
posted by eatcherry at 1:04 PM on April 7, 2005

I would also like to know the answer to this question as whenever I laugh hard I get EXCRUTIATING muscle cramps in my jaw.
posted by scazza at 1:05 PM on April 7, 2005

This used to happen to me, a lot, I used to be very nervous around people and it was my minds way of coping with it. So I'd go into an outburst of laughter at things that were only mildly humorous even if it wasn't the appropriate time or place. When I overcame that nervousness it stopped.

I'm not saying you're nervous around people but it sounds like your minds coping with something through these outbursts.
posted by substrate at 1:21 PM on April 7, 2005

Does this happen only in social situations or does it also happen when you are alone? If it only happens in social situations perhaps you need to excuse yourself for a few minutes and practice getting things under control. If it also happens while you are alone then maybe you need to talk to a shrink.
posted by quadog at 1:23 PM on April 7, 2005

This or this
posted by peacay at 1:29 PM on April 7, 2005

This sometimes happens to me too, although not to that extent. As horrible as it is, I usually visualize starving children, or victims of genocide, and think about the various horrific things that are happening around the world at any given moment. Shuts me up really fast.
posted by stray at 1:36 PM on April 7, 2005

The only way to do it completely is to is isolate the activity in your mind, become aware of it not as an inevitable uncontrollable response, but as a thing you can simply deny.

Same for hiccups, or that choking that happens with you swallow some spit wrong-- once you think you can control it, you can.
posted by dong_resin at 1:37 PM on April 7, 2005

i love people like you--it always makes me join in. : >

I think quadog has it--if it's in an unsuitable place/time, leave the room for a minute.

(i find that when i laugh like that uncontrollably and start crying bec. i'm laughing so much, it's because my body/mind needed the release. of course, for the next hour or so, i'll still be giggling.)
posted by amberglow at 1:56 PM on April 7, 2005

I think about dead pets.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:04 PM on April 7, 2005

Try tightening your abdominal muscles. I have heard actors say that they do that when they're doing comedy and the audience is laughing a lot.
posted by anapestic at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2005

Just cough.

No really, instead of trying to suppress the initial "hah", let out a spirited cough. It will disguise the laugh and is more widely tolerated. Hopefully, after a couple cough-hahs, you can recover your sobriety.
posted by klarck at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2005

Try to understand why you laugh, which is different from what you laugh at. Laughter is often a social bonding ritual. The subject matter may be irrelevant. This is why laugh tracks work. People will laugh at the most inane things, like five-year-olds getting beaten with their ripped-off limbs, if they perceive the group and/or the alpha male find it funny. Why do people laugh when the boss tells a lame joke? It's a vestigial survival mechanism. Laughter helps us form alliances with little risk, since we can always say, "It's only a joke" if anyone takes offense. If you understand the root of your laughter, (e.g., insecurity) you will control your outbursts, and develop a healthier sense of humour.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2005

Mayor Curley's suggestion may sound bizarre, but it works.
posted by themadjuggler at 6:17 PM on April 7, 2005

Okay, to elaborate:

I don't think it's because of nervousness or insecurity, which isn't an issue in a classroom while a teacher is lecturing or while sitting in a serious seminar.

I don't think it's out of a need to bond, especially in situations when laughing could in fact jeopardize relations, especially when inappropriate or unsharable.

It also happens when I am alone because of something amusing I remember. It's embarrassing, especially in public transportation, but I don't see how that makes me insane. :<

I try to be inconspicuous and make as little sound as possible. I try to suppress my laughter by not-thinking of that which made me laugh, and forcing myself to think other (-) thoughts works for a while but I guess it's like the don't-think-of-a-white-bear phenomenon - the more you try not to, the more often you will. It's frustrating!

It's not a problem with good-humored company or in a private leisurely setting because I can openly belly-laugh or double over or lean back or contort myself in myriad positions. But if friends in fact do join in, they usually get over it long before I do, or turn out to be laughing at my laughter more than what provoked it.

I need to stop laughing when it doesn't help the situation and/or I could get in trouble for it.

I suppose that I could very well excuse myself when I can and laugh it out elsewhere. The Zen approach of isolation and least resistance sounds good as well. Tightening abdominal muscles seems most practical, if that is how comedy actors prevent themselves from laughing.

Thanks, guys! More suggestions welcome, s'il vous plait.
posted by Lush at 9:14 PM on April 7, 2005

And sorry, I realize I could have phrased it more clearly.

How can I stop laughing when I'm not being made to laugh?
posted by Lush at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2005

I agree with dong_resin's mind-control method. I've been able to do this occasionally with hiccups, but since I seldom get hiccups, practice has not made perfect, and I haven't really been able to count on this reliably. But, Lush, it sounds like you'll have lots of opportunity to perfect the technique! (Maybe try to incorporate some deep breathing exercise into your focusing method?)

Also, this is just a hunch, but if I had your problem, I might visit an acupressure practitioner, and see if they might be able to suggest pressure points that I might use to help alleviate a laughter fit.
posted by taz at 11:23 PM on April 7, 2005

the number of "might"s I used in that last sentence has now induced an uncontrollable bout of laughter.
posted by taz at 11:27 PM on April 7, 2005

Precious, taz! I would never have thought of acupressure, but now that you mention it, it's worth looking into - and hoping that magical pressure point isn't in an unreachable place.

As for mind control: how?
posted by Lush at 12:30 AM on April 8, 2005

What dong_resin (giggle, giggle) said; you need to become aware (and convinced) that it is a valid option for you to turn it off, and it really is. If you believe that you are being disabled by this thing that is out of your control, then you are helpless. If you know that you can turn it off, then with a little practice, you will be able to.

And, as I mentioned, you might try some kind of breathing thing to sort of help "center you" as you consciously choose to stop. You might try the "cleansing breath" thing, where you visualize filling your lungs to the maximum with air, in a long, slow, deep intake, and then expelling that air — again, slowly, smoothly — until every little bit of air, from way down at the very bottom of your lungs, is exhaled. Try to see it.
posted by taz at 1:24 AM on April 8, 2005

Get more exercise. Laughter is a release of tension/stress. Exercise reduces stress. I know my wildest boughts of laughter come when there has been stress over something (my life is usually low-stress). In situations where you can, practice letting yourself laugh 'heartily'. Let your belly jiggle and blast some good guffaws. It feels good that way!
posted by Goofyy at 3:12 AM on April 8, 2005

Exercise sounds like a good idea... I'm sure accumulated stress plays a part, even though you may not be experiencing stress related to that particular situation.

For me, though, one outstanding example of direct-stress related hilarity was when I got married... The ceremony. I suddenly found everything absolutely hilarious, and had a hard time not shrieking with laughter throughout the whole thing. It really surprised me, because it was a low-key, fairly casual affair, and I didn't expect to be nervous at all. As it turns out, all I can remember from the actual ceremony is trying to keep from howling like an idiot. Thank heaven we didn't go the speak-your-own-vows route; I never would have made it through.
posted by taz at 4:22 AM on April 8, 2005

I've never tried this, but what about the ol' rubber band around the wrist method? When you start laughing uncontrollably, just pull that band back and snap your wrist hard enough that you're concentrating on the sting. Maybe that would provide enough of a stopgap interruption that your laughter will calm itself down.
posted by zombiebunny at 5:11 AM on April 8, 2005

Thinking depressing thoughts usually works for me. If starving children or dead pets are personally depressing issues, they will work; if they are not the sort of thoughts that honestly make your stomach sink then they probably won't. Choose something that really just hits you "that way."

Both sadness & disgust can contradict laughter enough to end it, but then, you're sort of stuck with the sadness or disgust, so the best answer is to find something sobering but not deadening. If you can recall a particular time in your life where you directly experienced that level of sobriety, that's even better, and if it's something that has some meaning and doesn't feel like a terrible thought to have, that's even better. I have found medical experiences, my own & those of family, have served to return me to earth when necessary.

I also sometimes just want to burst out laughing on the subway, so I have a little line up of sobering thoughts like that if simple will power/suppression fails. But honestly, it doesn't fail that commonly - you really can decide not to laugh; you just have to seriously decide. we make so many decisions in life in a half-way way that I think we sometimes forget we can make strong decisions, so it's good to remind yourself that actually it is up to you - the more you believe this, the more true it becomes - one of the only parts of life in which that can actually be said to be true.
posted by mdn at 9:10 AM on April 8, 2005

mdn, you touched on a major concern I had regarding the use of negative thoughts. It's one thing to stop laughing and entirely another to tip the scale too much to the other side towards a bout of melancholy.

A lot has been said about control, choice, decision - I suppose if these apply to many human dealings, then they can be applied to this physical dilemma as well.

Though I have to wonder - how much of it is true self-control and how much of it is the urge naturally waning at the elapse of time?
posted by Lush at 3:41 PM on April 8, 2005

It's one thing to stop laughing and entirely another to tip the scale too much to the other side towards a bout of melancholy.

yeah, I know what you mean. Not being able to stop laughing is among the more pleasant problems to have, really :).

Though I have to wonder - how much of it is true self-control and how much of it is the urge naturally waning at the elapse of time?

well, yes, it's always easier to look back and think you handled something after the fact, and who's to say it wouldn't have quieted down in about the same amount of time, etc - but my experience has been that if I really seriously need to be in control, I can pull it together, and if I'm in a light mood and enjoying a funny thought on a subway and actually, in the end, in this case I don't really care if I look a bit silly, then I might sort of let it get away from me. But if I'm in a somber atmosphere where it really would be inappropriate, I don't have that trouble.

One semi-paradoxical thing that works for me is kind of a medical paranoia scheme: my mum has MS & this sometimes seems to result in her not being able to control herself, including in some cases, her laughter. So sometimes if I feel like I can't stop laughing, I get paranoid that I'm developing MS too, which is depressing enough to stop the laughter... but then, I've managed to stop it, so it isn't really MS after all, so everything's all right. Hey, it's even kinda funny... ah the cycle of life.
posted by mdn at 12:17 PM on April 9, 2005

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