Generation Z increasingly uses memes as a coping mechanism and method of expressing emotions in ways both healthy and not. Memes, or viral internet jokes, have helped alleviate fears from the 2020 crises including the COVID-19 pandemic and the polarizing presidential election.
Turning to humor as a coping mechanism is not unique to Generation Z, said BYU professor Kristina Hansen, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology.
“Humor and comedy have always been really valuable, especially during rough times,” Hansen said. Hansen referenced comedian Bob Hope, who brought laughter to troops during WWII and other conflicts. “There’s just a lot of stuff that’s overwhelming right now. Everyone needs a way to escape, and humor has always played a role in that.”
Hansen added that the difference with Generation Z is in how accessible today’s humor is. “Memes and videos and so many different media options are super available, so I think availability makes people more likely to turn to it,” Hansen said.
In response to a survey conducted on The Daily Universe’s Instagram, 94% of readers said memes are a healthy coping mechanism.
“Humor is essential,” Instagram user @allie_aloy said. “It gives us the ability to laugh in the face of fear.”
“Absolutely!” BYU student Alia Ebbert said. “Memes are Gen Z’s way of coping, communicating and validating.”
Others pointed out an unexpected value to memes: connection.
“Memes help us remember we’re not alone as we relate with others,” user @lindseyreeshenrie said. “I think they unite people.”
“They allow individuals to connect and realize they are not alone in what they’re feeling,” BYU freshman Andrea Gustafson said.
Many readers were quick to point out that even though memes can be a healthy mechanism, they shouldn’t be the only salve people turn to.
“They’re a fun outlet for stress and frustration,” user @jmo114 said. “They should NOT be your only outlet though.”
BYU student Jorri Johnson pointed out that even though she enjoys laughing through her problems, it doesn’t make them go away.
“Memes about 2020 have made it easier to deal with, knowing that there are others who are experiencing similar things, but the thing is that laughing your problems away doesn’t really work,” Johnson said. “It’s healthy, but it isn’t effective on its own, just like any other coping strategy. The more the merrier!”
BYU student Devon McGregor pointed out other solutions to stress. “Memes can bring some comedy, but I think there are better things like a hobby/exercise/instrument,” McGregor said.
Memes can become harmful when used as a distraction to stifle stress, BYU alumnus Andrew Naylor said.
“People use memes as a shield to imply that they are immune to their pain,” Naylor said. Naylor said memes can become harmful when used as a distraction from stress or as “a defense mechanism to justify their lack of true coping abilities.”
“Memes can be helpful, but people might be using them to hide emotional responses that they don’t want to deal with,” Naylor said. “While memes as a coping mechanism can help stop anxiety in the short term, in the long term it only creates more problems.”
It is important to strike a balance between coping through humor and “making time and space and allowance to feel what’s real, even uncomfortable feelings,” Hansen said.
“If you’re always trying to escape how you’re feeling, I’d say that’s not healthy,” Hansen said. “It’s great to laugh, but balance is key.”