According to Dr Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) sense of humour and taking care of ourselves and others can have a positive psychological impact on people amidst the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.

Humour can help people take precautions against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and adapt to its impact on daily life – if used in the right way.

Dr Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi
Dr Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi

That is the view of Dr Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi, Director of Student Wellness and Counseling at GU-Q – a partner university of Qatar Foundation – 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.

According to Dr Mousavi, dealing with COVID-19 should be done with rationality. She said that we should neither exaggerate nor minimise the importance of the situation and its impact, but we should also keep a balanced view and follow guidelines, because otherwise we may experience negative psychological impacts, as individuals and as a community.

From a psychological view, humour – if used appropriately – is good and healthy, especially in difficult times. A good sense of humour helps individuals and brings the community together, because we can communicate effectively through humour.

However, she said that there is a fine line between using appropriate humour and meanness and stereotyping. Good humor lightens the mood and raises people’s spirits. Obviously, if jokes are taken out of proportion, if it exaggerates or minimises the gravity of an issue, and if they are at the expense of certain groups of people, then it is not humour, it is hostility.

I have seen some humourous 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 humour.

Dr Mousavi explained that people use humour as a form of coping, communicating, and expressing emotions. She said that one of the best ways to control direct contact with others to avoid the spread of coronavirus is to use appropriate humour and lighthearted, caring comments like ‘Not hugging is caring’ or ‘Not shaking hands is cool’.

She emphasised that people should not be limiting activities they enjoy unless there are specific guidelines for them to avoid these.

As for the workplace impact of COVID-19, Dr Mousavi said there are ways for people to 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, and this can be 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 realise that not meeting directly is not a reason for taking any offense.

Regarding the psychological impact of self-isolation due to COVID-19, Dr Mousavi said that as humans we like to move freely, rather than be isolated, but health precautions take priority.

Putting yourself in quarantine does not mean complete isolation, as people can come together using other forms of communication like social media. It can actually be very beneficial  – an opportunity to read a book you always wanted to read, or to complete a project.

We must all be responsible for protecting ourselves, our families, and other members of society.

Dr Mousavi again emphasised the importance of following the preventive measures that Qatar has put in place to protect the community.