What Is Nervous Laughter? How To Stop?

Last Update on April 26, 2023 : Published on January 3, 2022
Nervous Laughter

I have come across so many people who start laughing when nervous or inappropriately laugh when in stressful situations. I would always wonder why someone would laugh when they are nervous or scared to death?

Isn’t it confusing? I mean that’s not the right reaction to an uncontrollable or stressful situation. Laughing at things that aren’t funny or laughing when nervous has been a concern for many people. We might find it very absurd, in all honesty, we might even call the person crazy!

Now, we know it’s not the right response, hence it is important for you to know how to stop laughing when nervous.

I will help you to do just that but first let’s begin with understanding what nervous laughter is…

Why Do I Laugh When Nervous?

Laugh Out Loud

Most of us must have experienced an episode of nervous laughter. It might not be very extreme but I think most of us must have found ourselves laughing when nervous at least once. Laughing when something bad happens or when you are nervous can be a result of your defense mechanism

Nervous laughter is an incongruous emotion. Incongruous emotions are emotions that are not appropriate for the situation, mostly opposite. For example, laughing at a funeral, being agitated in a joyous situation, etc. Now do you know why do you laugh in stressful situations?

The most known cause of laughing when anxious or laughing when nervous or in an uncomfortable situation is that we might do it to protect ourselves from harsh/strong emotions. Inappropriate laughter or nervous laughter is a result of our brain’s defense mechanism. You can also do this to regulate your emotions.

What’s The Science behind Laughing at Inappropriate Times?

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist, was a pioneer in studying nervous laughter. He began studying this phenomenon of why you laugh when in stressful situations in the early 1960s. Milgram along with his associates experimented to test nervous laughter. 

In this experiment, Milgram used electric shock as a trigger/stimulus that might evoke a nervous or anxious feeling. He made his experiential group witness the control group receiving an electric shock.

His control group consisted of his own associates who were not actually being given any kind of shock. They created an illusion and the associates were producing fake responses. This entire activity made the experimental group uncomfortable, anxious and nervous.

As the voltage increases (supposedly), most people in the experimental group laugh, grin or smile at the volatile situation. They were clearly nervous because the same is going to happen to them too and used laughter to regulate their emotion.

This experiment proved that people laugh nervously in uncomfortable or stressful situations.

But the question remains the same, ‘Why’ do we do that, “Why do I laugh in stressful situations”? To answer this question, many researchers tried to find out the psychology behind it. Everything boiled down to ‘cognitive defense mechanisms’. 

Cognitive defense mechanisms have proven to lower the anxiety and stress levels in an individual.  Is everything adding up now? Milgram proved that the existence of nervous laughter and cognitive defense mechanisms is the reason why someone would do it!

It’s our brain’s way to protect us!

Medical Causes Of Nervous Laughter

Other than defense mechanisms and emotional regulation, some medical conditions can cause nervous laughter. There are other possible reasons to understand why you laugh in stressful situations. Let’s have a look at them:

A. Pseudobulbar affect: it is an episodic medical condition where you display strong inappropriate responses in situations when it’s not necessary.

B. Hyperthyroidism: hyperthyroidism happens when you glands begin to produce T4 and T3 hormones in excess because of which you might fall prey to nervous laughter.

C. Grave’s disease: it’s a condition where your body begins to make too much of antibodies and has a similar effect on your emotions just like hyperthyroidism.

D. Kuru: Kuru is a condition where your brain is infected by a protein named Prion. Prion disturbs the functioning of the cerebellum which is responsible for our cognitions and emotions.

If you have been experiencing Nervous laughter, these conditions might be an underlying cause. Do Get yourself checked to understand why you laugh in stressful situations and how to stop your nervous laughter!

How To Stop Laughing When Nervous?

Nervous laughter is not easily controllable. Having said that, there are a few things that can help you stop that nervous laughter. If nervous laughter is because of a medical condition, then proper medication and treatment of that medical condition is one way you can stop laughing when nervous.

Other than that you can try these options:

1. Breathing exercises: deep breathing has proven to reduce anxiety and stress, try that!

2. Meditation: a tiny quiet medication session can help you regulate your emotions and get rid of the nervousness.

3. Try Yoga: Yoga has many benefits. Regular yoga practice can help you with your anxiety and nervousness, therefore, it will help you with nervous laughter too.

Want to learn yoga? Click here!

4. Creative therapies: therapies that focus on creativity, strengthen your problem solving skills. Hence, it is beneficial for people with stress, anxiety or nervousness issues.

5. Cognitive behavioral therapy: through this therapy you can solve your nervous laughter issues via conscious responses.

When To See A Doctor?

It is important to know how serious or manageable your condition is. It is always better to see a mental health expert if you are in doubt. However, if you think your nervous laughter is getting out of hand or you find yourself laughing at inappropriate places, you should visit a doctor. 

There are a lot of psychological interventions that can help you manage your nervous laughter and stop it from interfering with your life. If you think anything in your life is bothering you to a limit that affects your mental peace, you need to get up and go to a doctor. 

Nervous laughter is not something you need to be ashamed of. It is possible that your brain is using nervous laughter to protect you from the impact of your negative thoughts and feelings. however, it is always good to visit a doctor so that you can avoid any serious mental health conditions. 


Nervous laughter may sound funny but it is really something you should be concerned about. If you are experiencing nervous laughter episodes, make sure you start looking for the cause and begin the treatment as soon as possible.

I hope you found this blog interesting! Do comment and tell me about your nervous laughter episode. Try these tips to stop laughing when nervous and let me know how they work with you?

Thanks for reading!

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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